Will London elect its first Liberal Democrat Mayor?

In last month’s European Parliament elections, the Liberal Democrats topped the London constituency vote, getting 27.2% of the vote compared to Labour’s 23.9%, and only 7.8% for the Conservatives. Since then, we’ve had a poll from YouGov that put the Liberal Democrats ahead in a national poll on Westminster voting intentions, at 24%, ahead of the Brexit Party (22%), and with the Conservatives and Labour tied on 19%. Looking at YouGov’s figures for London, the picture is even more stark: Liberal Democrats on 34% with Labour trailing in second place on 24% (10% behind), and the Conservatives barely registering on 14%.

London is a remain city (59.9% to Leave’s 40.1%), and we have now seen huge Liberal Democrat surges in Westminster polling intentions, the European Parliament elections in London, and local council elections around the country (more than doubling their elected Councillors). Voters are dumping the two main parties and large numbers are switching to the Liberal Democrats. So what might this mean for the London Mayoral contest in May 2020, less than 12 months away?

The London Mayor is elected under a form of PR, the Supplementary Vote system, where voters cast a first preference and second preference vote. After the first preference votes are counted, if no candidate has 50%+ of the vote, all but the top two candidates are eliminated, with their second preference votes redistributed.

Based on what we have seen in the last month and current polls, I predict that the top two candidates in less than 12 months will be Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Liberal Democrat’s Siobhan Benita, where second preference votes could easily swing it for Benita. It seems some bookies agree, with at least one shortening the odds on Benita becoming London’s Mayor in recent days.

At a time when polls also show that dissatisfaction with Sadiq Khan is rising and Londoners think services are getting worse, the best chance of getting rid of Sadiq is possibly the Lib Dems – for once, their ‘unique’ “only the Liberal Democrats are challenging here” bar charts won’t be wrong!

And what does this mean for the London Assembly elections, specifically in Croydon and Sutton? The split of votes across the three parties in the two boroughs has allowed the Conservatives to hold the seat since it was created in 2000. In 2016, the Conservative’s Steve O’Connell topped the poll with 38.6% of the vote, Labour’s Marina Ahmad came second with 32.2% (with votes mainly from Croydon) and the Liberal Democrat’s Amna Ahmad on 10.4% of the vote (with votes mainly from Sutton).

With the Conservative vote collapsing across the country, it would be easy to predict an easy Labour win – but if Labour also continues to hemorrhage votes to the Liberal Democrats, this could allow the Conservatives to split the vote and come through the middle. But it would also require the local Croydon Conservatives to convince activists to again campaign locally.

On current indications, I think the Conservative’s Neil Garratt will probably still win in Croydon & Sutton on the day. And perhaps all those years holding Sutton’s Liberal Democrat administration to account will have been useful practice if we do indeed end up with our first Liberal Democrat Mayor of London?

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