Sadiq Khan success at the next election for London mayor has been seen as a done deal, but Susan Hall stands a chance if the Conservatives lend her their support, writes Cameron Smith
The race to be the capital’s next mayor is closer than pundits and political anoraks think. There’s a path for Susan Hall, the Conservative candidate, to win the keys to City Hall next year. But only if she can persuade her party to take London politics – and their chances – seriously.
According to one ppinion poll for Times Radio Hall is effectively tied with Sadiq Khan. However, it’s only a surprise because the idea that London is a Labour city is so ingrained in the minds of many. In reality the mayor’s grip on the city has been slipping for months.
Earlier this year, YouGov found that half of all Londoners think Khan is “doing badly” as mayor. Under the headline poll, the detail is more damaging. A clear majority think he’s “doing badly” in his three core areas of responsibility: transport (55 per cent), crime (62 per cent), and housing (65 per cent). Worryingly for Khan a majority of Labour voters also think he’s performed poorly on the latter two issues.
These are not only the three main responsibilities of the mayor but are linked to the three big issues that Londoners say will determine how they vote: cost of living, policing and crime, and housing. With most agreeing he’s done a bad job on the critical issues facing London, it’s clear Khan is vulnerable.
What’s standing between the mayor and losing the election is a serious Conservative campaign to oust him. The shambolic selection process was a poor start to the mayoral race, but not the fault of its victor. Her challenge is building a credible campaign, a popular policy platform and becoming recognisable. But it’s not clear the party is throwing everything behind her.
Hall shouldn’t be written off. She’s a formidable local politician who split Harrow’s Labour group to take control of the council and negotiated a deal with Liberal Democrat and Green members to lock Labour out of critical positions on the London Assembly.
There’s also a degree of snobbery about a solid councillor running for mayor. Devolution shouldn’t only empower local communities to install Westminster-trained politicians to take the reins. While most mayors are former MPs, not all are, including the country’s most popular mayor, Ben Houchen, in Tees Valley.
An outspoken, authentic, small-business-owning, local politician who understands City Hall is an offering Londoners haven’t had before. She also offers a clear change from the status quo. She’ll be a low-tax, tough-on-crime mayor who sees her number one responsibility as making London safe.
Crucially, Hall understands that London isn’t one homogeneous city, and zone one policies aren’t right for outer London. But she needs to develop an attractive, new offer for inner London, like unlocking swathes of public land for housebuilding, improving London’s nightlife and expanding the night tube.
Conservatives should be jumping behind their candidate. They know Khan is there for the taking, and unseating him would derail Labour’s momentum ahead of the general election. It is also an opportunity to revive its support in London, reversing the slow retreat which has seen the party lose nearly a third of its MPs and half its councils since 2010. But instead, the party machinery is relatively silent.
While the London Conservatives’ campaign against ULEZ expansion has gone national, the party isn’t yet pushing their mayoral candidate sufficiently. She’s the right person to ignite the electoral “doughnut” of outer boroughs, which won City Hall for Boris Johnson twice. Labour’s unfair and unaffordable charge has reminded the suburbs that they’re in London – the Conservatives need to remind them they have someone to vote for.
The challenge is enormous; Khan is a household name. But with a new face who is straight-talking and honest, the Conservatives have an opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the electorate in the capital. While Khan hopes anti-government sentiment will see him re-elected, the Uxbridge by-election showed that Londoners see Labour’s hand in running the capital and that it could be time for a change.