Back to Blog

Posted: 15.03.24

Race for City Hall: And so it begins

Robert Gordon Clark sets the scene for the impending election of the Mayor of London and 25 Assembly members on 2 May 2024

robert-gordon-clark-65f41db0f0ea2.jpg (original)

This is the first in a series of weekly blogs from the LCA team on the upcoming election of the Mayor of London and 25 Assembly members on Thursday 2 May 2024. It is the seventh of these elections, and I have had the pleasure of covering all of them.

Back in 2000 LCA was only a few months old and there were just three of us in a tiny office in Paddington as Ken Livingstone marched to victory on an independent ticket. Today, we are some 70 strong and you will hear from a different member of the team each week as we approach election day. My job now is to set the scene. 

The first thing to realise is that there have been two significant changes to the election process since 2021, when the Covid-delayed election took place and Labour’s Sadiq Khan won a second term.

Election watchers will recall that the system to elect the Mayor provided you with two votes – a first and second preference. If no candidate won 50% of the first preferences, then the top two candidates went through to a second round and the other candidates’ second preferences were counted to establish a winner.  All three Mayors – Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson for the Conservatives and Sadiq Khan – have relied on the second preferences to get over the 50% line.

That system has now been scrapped and we have reverted to the traditional ‘first past the post system’ which we also use to elect our MPs. (Although you still have two additional votes for the Assembly members). 

The second significant change is you must bring with you an acceptable form of photo ID. Simply attending with your polling card will no longer suffice. For more information on the way the system works, including the fact you can still vote for Assembly members too, it’s worth checking out London Elects here.

There has been considerable comment on these changes from various political voices.

Given London is typically a left leaning city, it has been generally assumed that the second preference system favoured the Labour candidate, with an assumption that most Green and Lib Dem voters would use their second preferences for Labour. That said, Johnson was seen as someone with a far broader appeal with the public than his own party and garnered many more second preferences in 2008 and 2012 than Steve Norris in 2000 and 2004.

And another reason for this change might be that despite running what many considered to be a weak election in 2021, Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey came closer than most predicted, polling 35% first preferences, whilst Khan managed 40%. This was a far closer gap than 2016 when Khan beat Zac Goldsmith or when Livingstone beat Norris.

So moving to first past the post is seen by many as a way to improve the odds on a Tory win, although the element of the unknown now is how supporters of the smaller parties will cast their sole vote on polling day without the option of a second preference.

The same could be said about voter ID. Right-wing parties have long majored on fears of electoral fraud to argue for introducing voter ID, despite there being very little evidence in recent elections. Meanwhile, left-wing parties have said it will make it harder for disadvantaged communities to take part in the democratic system. Both have a point, but the bottom line is that voter ID for elections is probably here to stay.

Yet voter ID may well impact on turnout – 2021 saw only 42% vote, a drop of over three points from 2016. Many commentators question whether we will get to 40% turnout this time.

Apart from these two differences in the process, there is a third key difference to the previous six elections. For the first time we have a woman candidate for one of the two main parties – the Conservative former leader of Harrow Council and current Assembly Member, Susan Hall. We will comment a lot more on her campaign and that of the other candidates in the weeks ahead, but it is worth noting that the most recent poll (YouGov for the Mile End Institute at QMU), published in February, showed Khan on 49% and Hall on 24% - a massive 25 point lead.

And if Khan were to win, he would achieve a “first” as the first Mayor to be elected for a third term.  Livingstone tried and failed twice to achieve this.

Apart from Hall and Khan the other candidates so far declared are Rob Blackie (Liberal Democrats), Zoe Garbett (Green Party), Howard Cox (Reform), Amy Gallagher (SDP) and Independents Shyam Batra, Natalie Campbell, Piers Corbyn, Serge Crowbolder, Tarun Ghulati and Andreas Michli.  And that’s before Count Binface throws his (metal) hat in the ring.

I mention all these other candidates because in 2021 over 10% of the first preferences went to the 16 independent candidates. One does wonder whether people will still vote for these candidates knowing they only have one vote this time.

Finally for this opening piece, some key dates.  The pre-election period starts one minute past midnight on 19 March.  Nominations run from 19 March – 27 March and candidates are announced no later than 4pm on Tuesday 2 April.  The last day to register to vote is 16 April.  Voting is on Thursday 2 May (polling stations open from 7am to 10pm). 

And when will the result be announced?  Well, that is never easy to predict and some previous elections have seen delays (staying for the result in 2016 I was very late for my own birthday party…).  But the assumption now is we should know the result some time on Saturday 4 May. 

So if you haven’t already, make sure you have registered to vote by 16 April, have the requisite ID to vote in person and now…let the campaign begin!