News and Insights

London’s mayoralty in a changing national context

April 23, 2024

It is likely that London mayor Sadiq Khan will return for a third term after May’s election. Yet the introduction of a first-past-the-post voting system means the Labour candidate’s victory is not necessarily a foregone conclusion.

This new system means that his rival, Conservative Assembly Member Susan Hall, has a chance. 2021’s election was conducted under a preference voting system and Khan secured a win only through second preference votes. These will no longer be in play.

In light of these changes to 2024’s election process, Khan has highlighted the need for tactical voting in order to avoid a close contest. However, with most recent polling suggesting that Labour still holds the majority vote, the discussion is slowly shifting to ask how another term will shape up under Khan.

For nearly a decade, Khan has been the highest profile member of the Labour Party in public office. Maintaining a steady presence as the party continues to realign to the centre, his words have represented Londoners – and the party – nationally. This is a confident mayor, at ease in his role. Public feuds with former US President Donald Trump and a steadfast commitment to the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) also reveal a man who is comfortable standing above the parapet.

Khan is not afraid to clash with his own party’s leadership either. In the autumn, he publicly disagreed with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over a ceasefire in Gaza, while his relentless push for the expansion of ULEZ caused controversy when Labour failed to regain the Uxbridge parliamentary seat last summer.

Khan is also unabashedly pro-EU and has even called for a ‘discussion’ to start on a UK return to the customs union. In contrast, Starmer’s calls for a closer relationship with Europe reportedly view any such return as a red line that he will not cross. Campaigning will bring this issue sharply into light and could cause further rifts.

The weight of Khan’s status means that clashes with leadership are cause for additional concern. Like Khan, Starmer enjoys a healthy polling lead. If Starmer wins, Khan’s carefully curated profile as an embattled but determined mayor – one constrained by the Conservatives – will need updating.

Starmer has tried to recognise Khan’s influence. Public reconciliation on the eve of campaigning was a welcome boost. Both candidates know that they need each other, not only to be successful campaigners, but also to be successful should Labour be in power.

Campaign tactics are likely playing a part too. Starmer has worked to rehabilitate the Labour party in the eyes of the centre, while Khan must convince London’s key voter segments to support him once again – perhaps part of his reasoning for so publicly disagreeing over his party’s approach to Gaza. It may be that personal disagreements are reconciled should Labour be in government.

Khan will likely also be looking forward to accessing his full mayoral powers. The Greater London Authority’s (GLA) status as the middle layer has left it vulnerable to politicking. With policy priorities including air quality and knife crime, plus a 40,000 council home commitment, Khan will hope to no longer see his policies cut short by Westminster.

Nowhere has this been more evident than in his headline housing policy. Secretary of State Michael Gove recently ordered Khan to update his London Plan and has now begun a distracting consultation into the GLA’s planning permission powers. With friendly faces in Cabinet, situations like this should be less frequent.

Political engagement in the short-term may look familiar, especially as we await a date for the General Election. But for those looking ahead, the new context of a third Khan term should not be overlooked.  Although the city’s masthead may end up looking the same, it could soon be fixed to a very different ship.


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POSTED BY: Jayen Patel