As a Londoner living in the Midlands for University, I often feel rather detached from my home city. But, fear not, Perspectives readers, for my feelings of home-sickness have now been washed away by the hotting-up of the 2020 contest for the Mayoralty! And what a contest it is shaking up to be, as Conservative-turned-Independent Rory Stewart has now entered the race - making the usually fairly dull race to lead the Capital into a potentially fascinating contest.
Sadiq Khan is seen as a divisive figure in London. Whilst some see him as an inspiring British Asian politician, who is championing diversity and equality; for many he is consistently lamented for failing to tackle what is potentially the biggest issue in Londoner’s minds: crime. With stabbings seemingly occurring on a weekly basis, a somewhat apocalyptic feeling has swept over much of the city; further complicated by other issues, such as the lack of preventative measures (including youth clubs), and the exporting of crime to other areas via a system known as ‘county lines’.
Given this emotional pull, and many seeing Khan’s response as insufficient, the Conservative’s candidate, Shaun Bailey, should be seen as having a fighting chance at taking back City Hall for the party. But realistically, he is quite the underdog in the contest, given the Tories’ often toxic nature in the city due to austerity and Brexit. A resurgent Liberal Democrats (being led by Siobhan Benita), and Stewart’s independent candidacy only complicates matters, leading to the rather daunting conclusion that the next Mayoral election will well and truly be a multi-party contest.
For Stewart’s part, he is becoming a wild card. Much was made of his ‘walking tour’ across much of London’s inner suburbs during his candidacy for the earlier Conservative leadership contest (remember that?), and his ability to gain traction among many centrist voters. His advantage is that he can too appeal to much of the Conservative base in London, which is much more liberal and remain-inclined than their counterparts outside of the M25. In this sense, he can be expected to be engaged in a dog-fight for votes with Bailey - who I would expect to float Stewart’s seemingly opportunistic nature in entering a contest he previously seemed to have little interest in.
But ultimately, will this have much of an impact on the final result? Probably not; given the use of the Supplementary Vote system, which will distribute Londoners votes to the top two candidates in the election. Realistically, Khan can be expected to reach the final two, and Green and Liberal Democrat second preferences can be expected to stack in his favour. But what the election does give is a contest of ideas. Can the Conservatives survive by sticking solely to a dogmatic narrative of right-wing Populism under Boris Johnson? Will Labour’s inconsistency over Brexit ultimately prove their downfall in a key and crucial stronghold? Will the ‘gaping centre ground’ that were often told exists come out in full force and elect a maverick and quirky independent? Ultimately, and rather ironically, it can be seen that once again, the trajectory of Britain’s political life, perhaps for the 2020s, will be defined by the place that people often complain has too much power: its capital.