London mayoral election 2016: Zac and Sadiq Khan may be trading punches, but the onus is on Goldsmith to land a knockout blow

Ed Fulton
Conservative Party Autumn Conference 2015 - Day 3
Goldsmith has some serious work to do to convince voters (Source: Getty)

The race to succeed Boris Johnson as London mayor has mercifully entered the final rounds. The bell to mark the official start of the short campaign may have just rung, but Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan have been trading blows for nearly eight months – with neither landing a decisive shot.

As the decibel levels increase, and increasingly desperate punches are thrown, there is a real risk that neither candidate will have landed a knockout blow, and Londoners will be left to choose between two tired candidates who have failed to impress the judges.

If we look at the card, Tooting MP Khan is adjudged by most observers to have a clear lead on points.

Leading in the polls by anywhere between six and ten points, Khan has positioned himself as a business-friendly candidate who is on the side of ordinary Londoners. Making good use of his bus-driving father and council estate upbringing, the Labour candidate’s backstory couldn’t be more different than arch rival Goldsmith.

But the Richmond MP is hugely popular in his constituency – boasting a 23,000 vote majority – and was earmarked to succeed Boris, as Goldsmith too has a penchant for striking out on his own in contrast to the Conservative party line.

Read more: Battle commences in London mayoral race

Yet, what was a slim two percentage point deficit in the first poll after both Labour and Tory candidates were officially selected – with nearly a third of voters undecided – has turned into a ten point lead for Khan.

Team Goldsmith will know that without a strong Liberal Democrat presence in the race to drain moderate Labour support, they will need a huge chunk of the remaining undecided voters (15-20 per cent) to break their way.

New lines of attack are limited at this late stage in the fight, but Goldsmith has been jabbing away for some time at Khan by painting him as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s "man", in the hope that the punches start to stick in the later rounds.

Recent polling has shown that it is Goldsmith who is more trusted to keep London safe, but Khan is ahead on nearly every other issue – including the environment, which must have been a body blow that was keenly felt to the former editor of the Ecologist.

While the two candidates have been dancing around each other in the ring, the money has started to pile up in anticipation of a Khan victory.

In early January, Sporting Index’s London mayoral spread betting markets showed Khan available to buy at 40 and Goldsmith at 36. Flash forward to today and Khan's price has moved to 44 with Goldsmith's dropping in kind to 32.

Read more: Lammy has been fined £5,000 for instigating nuisance phone calls in mayoral bid

With the winner allocated a final market price of 50, Khan is edging ever closer to a near-certain victory.

Team Goldsmith have taken a good look at Jeremy Corbyn’s poll ratings and decided that linking Khan, one of the 36 MPs who nominated him for the leadership election, and the Islington North MP would be a sure fire way to discredit him.

Yet that strategy hasn’t worked as yet as a large portion of Corbyn’s supports are Londoners and Khan has done his utmost to distance himself ideologically from his embattled party leader.

Last week saw another setback for that strategy when a leaked list from Labour HQ surfaced that ranked every MP according to their level of support for project Corbyn – Khan was placed in the "hostile" group.

If even Khan’s own party leadership thinks he isn’t really on their side, Goldsmith has some serious work to do to convince voters otherwise.

That's why the onus is now on Goldsmith to land a knockout blow in the fight for City Hall. If he doesn’t between now and when the postal votes go out on 25 April, it will be too late.

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