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(The author is a senior researcher at the Institute of Government Studies)
Being mayor of London should be one of the most attractive political jobs on earth. Big personal assignment. global city. country profile. Responsibilities are relatively light and re-election prospects are good.
Next May, however, Londoners will be faced with a choice: a third term for Sadiq Khan (which, in their view, has been at odds with the Labor leadership, leading to their replacement in Uxbridge. electoral defeat) and Tory contender Susan Hall. Hall, an MP for the suburbs of Harrow and later a member of the London Assembly, was hardly a big shot on the national stage. The handful of former ministers nominated as Conservative candidates – such as Sajid Javid and Justin Greening – never moved from speculation to choice.
Given these frontrunners, the time is ripe for independent candidates. Former Conservative MP and minister Rory Stewart, who has now quit the party, was planning to run as an independent before the coronavirus pandemic delayed the 2020 mayoral race for a year. Ken Livingstone rejected the Labor nomination in 2000, beating his formal opponent in the first round of the count and Conservative challenger Steve Nor in the second. Steve Norris. He served two terms at City Hall.
Livingstone’s surprise success, the condemnation of Tony Blair, grabbed headlines around the world thanks to the voting system introduced by the new Labor government when it created the post of mayor. Since then, the supplementary voting system, which gives voters second priority, has been used in elections for Metro and joint powers mayors and police and crime commissioners across England and Wales. Voters can use their first vote to express their real preference — and, if they’re smart enough to know who’s going to make it to the final two rounds, choose an alternative or the least-worst option. This is a condensed version of France’s two rounds of presidential elections.
But next year’s election will be different. The government amended last year’s “Electoral Act” to provide priority for election, in line with the British general election. Labor’s opposition was muted. Ministers claimed the system was “overly complex and confusing”. Some did waste supplemental votes because they failed to predict who would be the final two.
Crucially, though, the winners of mayoral and police chief races are not always the ones who win under FPTP. In two-thirds of the races, the eventual winner is the independent or minor party candidate who came in second after the first round. The success of the climate-focused “teal” elections in last year’s Australian parliamentary elections with alternative voting has demonstrated the potential for preferential voting to involve outsiders. Not surprisingly, major political parties prefer institutional power-ups that help protect their monopoly. The hurdles for any external challenger in London have grown taller – and few will be tempted.
There are broader implications as well. Under the previous system of mayoral elections, the need to reach 50 percent of the final count meant parties were looking for candidates who appealed to their core constituency. It was one of the reasons David Cameron persuaded Boris Johnson to run successfully in 2008, and in the process gave him a springboard into Downing Street.
Broader support helps govern—mayors must work with other local parties, and often with governments from different backgrounds. They need to stand up to national leaders of the same party if national policies do not serve local interests. Broader local mandates give them legitimacy.
The ability to operate beyond party lines is the hallmark of the most successful mayors. Both Labor and the Conservatives claim mayors are key to the devolution agenda. We happened to find a system that would give them more leverage, and with very little debate, we’re dropping it for now. Politics in London will be poorer.