Hot on the heels of the 2019 General Election, comes the 2020 London contest. On 7th May the capital goes to the polls to decide who will be the Mayor for the next four year term. The 25 Member London Assembly will also be up for grabs with its 14 large First Past The Post seats and eleven Members chosen from party lists.
The Mayor of London has considerable executive powers over some services in the capital as well as a high profile pulpit to argue the case for his city.
In budget terms the largest part of the role is transport. Sadiq’s fares freeze has been delivered as he promised every year since his election in 2016 but the damage to TfL’s finances has been harmful and with Crossrail delayed until 2021 at least, there are questions about retaining the freeze for his next term. The Mayor is seeking more powers over mainline rail services but he needs to convince national government that he will be a responsible custodian.
The most controversial issues lie within the policing and crime brief. Knife crime has risen to its highest level in history with deaths also going up despite improved trauma care and emergency response. Crime had been going up around the rest of the UK, giving the Mayor some political cover but this trend is now reversing. We can expect violent crime to be a leading issue in the campaign.
The property market in London remains strong despite a slowdown during the recent Brexit uncertainties, with unattainable prices for most people. The Mayor has been pushing for more housing supply but it is difficult to buck a market that seems intent on driving prices higher.
Sadiq has also made it his priority to tackle poor air quality but this is a long term project which won’t yield results before May. Brexit may also play a role in the election with London’s remain voters looking to punish the main political parties.
The Assembly election is more important than ever because the body that scrutinises the Mayor has been acquiring new powers of its own. With a strong Labour Group these present no problem to the Mayor but if they lose seats, the Assembly could assume a more pivotal role.
In particular, the Assembly has the power to reject the Mayor’s budget if it can scrape together a two thirds majority. This presents some interesting possibilities for smaller parties to extract promises in return for their support. The power to reject Mayoral strategies has been added in recent years, so Sadiq could find his Transport Plan and London Plan in danger. Labour require at least 9 Members to defend the Mayor from hostile amendments so they would need to lose 3 of their current 12 seats to relax their grip on the Assembly.
The Assembly appoints scrutiny committees to keep an eye on the Mayor’s executive functions as well as investigating wider issues that affect London. The most important committees cover the budget, policing and transport but the rest of its structure could change to reflect the priorities of Members elected in 2020.
The Assembly holds Confirmation Hearings to approve key Mayoral appointments. Even with Members from the Mayor’s own party, these can be a rough ride for the nominees who appear before them.
Is Sadiq safe? London is a Labour supporting city which bucked the national trend to the Conservatives in December. Sadiq has backed a lot of causes which are dear to the metropolitan left and he has steered clear of Corbyn – despite nominating him for the Labour leadership in 2015 – so he should return to office. However the knife crime epidemic and failure to deliver Crossrail on time may dent his majority.
Rory vs Shaun? To win, the Tory candidate needs to drive up turnout in outer London whilst holding it down in Labour’s Inner London redoubts. It’s a challenging task, only achieved by Boris Johnson in 2008 and 2012. Independent candidate Rory Stewart will be bidding to take some of Shaun Bailey’s softer Conservative voters but he may pose more of a danger to the Lib Dem’s Siobhan Benita. Bailey is a good motivator and he is making violent crime his number one priority.
Lib Dem resurgence? In 2016 the Lib Dems did badly, falling to just one seat on the Assembly. For Caroline Pidgeon it has been a lonely four years but she should expect to be joined by more colleagues in 2020. Brexit has driven a resurgence of the Lib Dem vote in London, particularly the South West and inner London boroughs. The Lib Dems should be able to grab votes off both Labour and the Conservatives to increase their share of the List seats.
I’m providing briefings on the London contest – which Assembly seats might change hands, how the key policy issues will play out and how City Hall will manage its relationship with the new government. Contact me for more details.