Sadiq Khan launches bid for third term as London mayor

Sadiq Khan has launched his campaign to be re-elected Mayor of London with a vow to boost council housing as the UK capital’s most senior politician warned supporters not to assume he would win a third term.

The Labour mayor said at a press conference on Monday that the result of the election — which will be held on May 2 — could be the “closest ever”, despite some polls giving him a huge lead over Susan Hall. The Conservative London assembly member, a staunch rightwinger, is his main challenger.

Khan pledged to deliver 40,000 new council homes in the capital by 2030 — double a previous target — if he was returned to City Hall, in what he called the “greatest council homebuilding drive in a generation”.

The London mayoralty is one of a series of local contests on May 2 that will be heavily scrutinised for signs of the likely outcome of the general election, which Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said he expects to call in the second half of the year.

More than 2,600 council seats will be up for grabs in 107 councils, along with elections in 10 combined mayoral authority areas and for police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. There are no council elections in Scotland.

The Conservatives are expected to fare badly, not least because the last times these elections were held in 2021 it was in the midst of then prime minister Boris Johnson’s Covid-19 “vaccine bounce”, when the Tories did especially well.

According to a briefing on Monday by Tory peer and psephologist Lord Robert Hayward and polling company Savanta, the Conservatives had a “national equivalent vote” of 40 per cent in the 2021 elections compared with Labour on 30 per cent and the Liberal Democrats on 15 per cent.

The Financial Times general election poll tracker gives Labour a national lead of 20 points, with some surveys putting the Tories on only 20 points — half the level of support they enjoyed the last time these seats were contested.

Referring to the London mayoral contest, Hayward said: “It shouldn’t be the closest ever — if it is close, it would be astonishing and it would be a major victory for the Tory party.”

Khan, who was first elected mayor in 2016, said he could accelerate the pace of housebuilding in London — a key issue for voters — in lockstep with “a new Labour government” led by the party’s national leader Sir Keir Starmer. 

“It’s a choice between a Labour mayor who will continue to move our city forwards and build a fairer, safer and greener London for everyone, or the Tories who will reverse the gains we’ve made and take our city backwards,” he added. 

Although London has traditionally supported Labour, the party lost out to Johnson between 2008 and 2016.

Khan said new compulsory voter identification rules — which were first introduced in May last year — risked damaging his chances of re-election.

The London Assembly last month said the capital had a “higher population” of some groups deemed more likely to face difficulties meeting the new requirements, “including ethnic minority voters and younger voters”.

Khan also warned that changes to the voting system in the capital from a form of proportional representation to a “first past the post” system put the election “on a knife edge”.

However, the Labour candidate remains by far the bookmakers’ favourite to win in May, with William Hill offering bets on his victory at 1:33 odds-on.

A YouGov poll in February for the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London gave Khan a 25-point lead over Hall, at 49 per cent to 24 per cent respectively. 

Khan said he had stood up for London’s “values of openness, equality and inclusion”. He cited as his greatest achievements freezing rail and bus fares, putting more police on the streets and giving all primary-age children free school meals.

But Hall said Khan was “still not listening” after eight years in power. “He has . . . allowed crime to soar and imposed his disastrous Ulez expansion tax against the wishes of Londoners,” she said, referring to the bigger low-emissions zone in the capital.

“On May 2 we can either give him permission to ignore us even more or we can vote for change,” Hall added.

Apart from London, attention will focus on how the Conservatives are faring in key “red wall” areas such as Bolton and the mayoral contests in the West Midlands and Tees Valley, where Tories Andy Street and Lord Ben Houchen respectively are fighting to keep their jobs.

If the Conservatives sustain a battering, Downing Street is braced for a possible new threat to Sunak’s leadership, particularly from disillusioned right-wing MPs.

Street, a former managing director of retailer John Lewis, on Monday suggested he still believed that he could defy the national polls

“It is about brilliant local leadership on the ground and councils that deliver,” he said. “And my prediction, even though I do not know this, is that voters here are willing to distinguish between what is going on nationally and deciding who is best placed to deliver their services on the ground.”

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