London mayoral election 2016: Why Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith may struggle to emulate Boris Johnson by defying polls to win City Hall

Ed Fulton
Zac Goldsmith Is Announced As Conservative London Mayoral Candidate
For Goldsmith to become the next mayor of London he will need to do precisely what Boris did and outperform his party in the capital (Source: Getty)

A Tory candidate for London mayor that isn’t beloved by the wider Conservative party is down in the polls to a strong Labour candidate, but has Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby on board. It’s just over 100 days until the election and all signs point to a Labour win. Starting to sound familiar?

The year was 2008 and Boris Johnson was embroiled in an increasingly fractious dogfight with Ken Livingstone that he would go on to win, defying January polling, and leading to an eight year reign at City Hall.

Fast forward to the present day and Zac Goldsmith finds himself in a similar situation to Boris, but will need to overcome a whole host of new challenges to ensure a similar result in May.

Say what you will about political polling, but a recent YouGov poll for LBC that put his rival, Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, ahead by ten points in a head-to-head contest cannot be written off entirely.

As former London MPs Simon Hughes, Sarah Teather, Nick de Bois, Mary Macleod and others have come to appreciate; underestimate Khan at your peril.

Read more: Khan extends lead over Goldsmith in mayoral election

Khan organised Labour’s London efforts during last May’s general election campaign, helping the capital to buck the nationwide trend by delivering seven additional seats and double digit vote swings in some Conservative held constituencies.

The voracious campaigner then turned his sights on overwhelming favourite former MP for Dulwich and West Norwood Tessa Jowell. Khan duly won the Labour candidacy for mayor by a relative landslide despite not winning a single Constituency Labour Party first nomination and with a solitary poll showing him in the lead.

If that track record wasn’t enough to worry Goldsmith, the rise of Jeremy Corbyn, whom Khan nominated for the leadership election but didn’t vote for, has seen huge numbers of supporters join Labour – especially in London.

Put simply, for Goldsmith to become the next mayor of London he will need to do precisely what Boris did and outperform his party in the capital.

There are glimmers of hope for Goldsmith. Despite Khan being ever-present in the City in recent months, an exclusive poll in these very pages just last week indicated that it’s Goldsmith who has the support of business leaders and will no doubt pick up a slew of endorsements in the coming weeks and months.

It’s also worth remembering that Goldsmith too is no slouch when it comes to winning elections, increasing his majority in Richmond by nearly 20,000 votes last May.

It will undoubtedly be close but can Zac emulate Boris’ achievement in 2008 to claim London for the Tories?

One key consideration is the near decimation of the Liberal Democrats. In the 2008 race Lib Dem candidate Brian Paddick received nearly ten per cent of the total vote. Recent opinion polling suggests Caroline Pidgeon will struggle to receive a third of that in this year’s contest, and may be beaten into third by Green candidate Sian Berry. The outcome may well rest on who former Lib Dem backers support in May, Khan or Goldsmith?

Read more: Goldsmith - The green Tory gunning for Londoners’ votes in the 2016 mayoral election

In tight races it’s often helpful to look to the betting markets for guidance. At Sporting Index, we have installed Sadiq Khan as the favourite in our London Mayoral market, although it’s much closer than many might think.

Betting markets, like polls, can and do change, but the weight of money is usually a strong indicator of what the result will be. In November 2014, our political spread betting markets indicated the Tories were on course for just 276 seats, and Labour 294, at the General Election.

Yet by early January the two parties were level, and by the morning of the election itself we were one of the few who were predicting the Tories to win in excess of 300 seats as money continued to pour in backing David Cameron and Co.

It’s definitely still all to play for, but Goldsmith certainly has an uphill battle on his hands. Boris may have turned it around in 2008, but it is 2016 and Labour (in London at least) has arguably never been stronger.

With the formidable Khan as an opponent, and the might of Corbyn’s army of new activists behind the Tooting MP, it doesn’t appear at present that Goldsmith will follow Boris into City Hall.

If he does win, however, those who have backed him stand to profit handsomely.

Spread betting can result in losses that exceed your initial deposit or credit limit.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

Related articles