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Why the 2016 mayoral election was nothing more than a General Election re-run

Two emerging narratives from the recent London mayoral elections are that Sadiq Khan offered a moderate brand of centre-left leadership, separate and distinct from both Ed Milliband and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour (and possibly more successful). The second, that Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has undermined the Conservative brand and support in London. The results from the mayoral election don’t really support either thesis. Comparing the first preference voting of Londoners across the 14 GLA ‘super-constituencies’ with the share of the vote won in these same areas by Labour and the Conservatives at last year’s General Election and you see the results are almost identical.
In 2015 Labour won 43.7% of the popular vote in London to the Conservatives’ 34.9%; in the 2016 mayoral contest Sadiq Khan won 44.2% of first preference votes to Zac Goldsmith’s 35.0% – a swing from Conservative to Labour between 2015 and 2016 of a negligible 0.19%.

So while much has been made of Labour’s new and energised membership base following the election of Jeremy Corbyn, it has made next to no difference to Labour’s fortunes in the capital. Instead the election of Sadiq Khan looks like the symptom of a 2015 phenomenon which saw Labour benefiting disproportionately from the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, rather than a 2016 development of his own making.

2016 Mayor election vs General Election-02

Even with a Labour Mayor and 45 out of London’s 73 parliamentary seats, the capital is not really a “Labour City” in any permanent and enduring sense. At the General Election Labour led the Conservatives by 8.9% in London. Less noticed is that this “supremacy” is roughly the same margin by which the Conservatives beat Labour in the West Midlands. Strange then that the capital is often referred to as a Labour fortress, while the West Midlands passes for a bellwether region; stranger still when it would take only a modest swing of around.3.25% from Labour to the Conservatives at the next Election for the Tories to be the largest party in London.

The real story then of the 2016 mayoral election is one of continuity rather than change. Despite all the talk of dog whistles and rows over anti-Semitism, Zac Goldsmith proved no more or less popular than his party, and Sadiq Khan likewise. Not the stuff of headlines, but an observation at least rooted in the facts.

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