After a turgid campaign that has lasted, off and on because of covid-19, almost 18 months and with a record number of candidates, Londoners go to the polls tomorrow – but very little will ultimately change.
As well as a London Mayor and a Croydon and Sutton London Assembly member, electors in Croydon will also get to vote for a party on a list system to top up the Assembly with 11 members elected proportionally to parties’ shares of the list vote, employing a modified D’Hondt method. And then there’s five council by-elections – in Kenley, New Addington North, Park Hill and Whitgift ward, Woodside and South Norwood – where the vote is conducted on the old-school first-past-the-post system.
Such a profusion of different votes and voting systems confuses some voters.
In Croydon the last time there was a London election in 2016, 2,170 votes were deemed spoilt in the first preference vote for Mayor and 1,099 and 1,075 votes spoilt in the local member vote and the list vote respectively.
Unlike most of Europe, here in Britain we are wedded to the simplistic first-past-the-post constituency system, so when given the multiple options of a form of proportional representation, as exists in the London elections, it can be something of a challenge, even when we have experienced the system up to five times before.
The use of a first and second preference vote in the Mayoral contest sees some put too many votes in the column for first preference, or trying to rank candidates by number. The higher spoilt rate for voters in the Mayoral election is testament to that confusion.
Voters are more comfortable with the one vote usage they have seen before in parliamentary elections when they vote for the local Assembly member and for the list.
On the pink ballot paper for London Mayor, the voter must vote only once in column one for their first preference, and then votes only once in column two for their second preference (voters may choose to only vote for their first preference).
On the yellow ballot paper the voter votes once for their choice of constituency Assembly member.
On the orange ballot paper the voter votes for once for the party chosen.
And if you are in one of the five wards holding a local council by-election, there is just one vote to be cast on the white ballot paper.
The political parties in Croydon have been concentrating on the voters in the local council by-elections, which has been pretty pointless as they are all safe seats for Conservatives or Labour.
This, combined with covid-19 restrictions on campaigning, has made it hard for the local Assembly candidates to raise their profile across a large seat that runs from Coulsdon to Upper Norwood and all the way to Worcester Park.
The Assembly members’ role is to question the Mayor on their performance, to hold investigations into London issues and to amend the Mayor’s budget and key policies like the London Plan.
Such challenges can only be achieved with a 2/3rd majority of the 25 Assembly Members. In the 21-year history of the London Assembly, such a 2/3rd majority has never been achieved at the key moment.
Some candidates have promised changes that are nowhere near being in the power of Assembly members – you might even think they either do not know what the job entails or, alternatively, are deliberately misleading voters. If they have misled voters, then they have probably taken their cue from Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor since 2016, who has overpromised on job creation, and Shaun Bailey, the Conservative challenger, who has consistently misconstrued what Khan has done or intends to do.
Worries about covid-19 and what has seemed like a foregone conclusion in the Mayoral race for Khan seems likely to reduce tomorrow’s turnout, in a contest that some may not bother to risk their health when the Labour candidate is already seen as a clear winner.
As the campaign has progressed, opinion polls show Khan’s lead as moving from overwhelming to merely commanding. It is almost certain that this has nothing to do with the ineffectual Bailey’s campaign, and much to do with the growing disillusionment with the Labour Party under Keir Starmer.
But this slight changing down a gear for Khan will impact on the other results locally.
The opinion polls for the London Assembly constituency vote and for the Assembly list vote predict outcomes very similar to 2016 for the two largest parties.
The only notable changes are an impressively stronger showing for the Greens and a melting away of the UKIP vote that put two representatives on to the 2016 Assembly through the London-wide list vote. The atomisation of rightist voter support into a large number of fringe and often eccentric candidates sees the prospects for Reform UK and the Piers Corbyn candidate locally diminish.
This fall in the rightist vote puts a floor under the local Tory vote and gives a small boost on the Tory list vote.
Yesterday’s YouGov poll has the vote shares across London as follows (with the change from 2016 in brackets):
Assembly Constituency vote
Labour 43% (down 0.5%)
Conservative 30% (down 1.1%)
Green 13% (up 3.9%)
LibDem 9% (up 1.5%)
Others 5% (down 3.8%)
Assembly London-wide list
Labour 41% (up 0.7%)
Conservative 31% (up 1.8%)
Green 15% (up 7%)
LibDem 8% (up 1.7%)
Others 5% (down 11.2%)
Taking account of demographic change locally and the noted failures of the parties in control on Croydon and Sutton councils, it now looks like Neil “Father Jack” Garratt will just hold the local Assembly seat for the Tories with Inside Croydon’s prediction as:
Croydon and Sutton Assembly seat
Garratt Conservative 54,000 votes 37.2% (down 1.4%)
Cummings Labour 51,000 35.2% (up 3%)
Underwood Green 16,500 11.4% (up 4%)
Bonham LibDem 16,000 11.0% (up 0.6%)
Poll Reform UK 5,500 3.8% (new)
Sampson Let London Live 2,000 1.4% (new)
Swing Conservative to Labour 2.2%
On the London-wide list, the Greens will certainly gain one seat to three, and they will contest a fourth seat with the LibDems. The likely result will see Labour and Conservatives unchanged on 12 and eight seats respectively, the Greens on three seats, up one, and the LibDems on two, also up one seat.
Not much change for all that effort.
Read more: Gammons and other chancers among 20 Mayor candidates
Read more: Tory Assembly candidate in racism row over stop and search
Read more: Will South Norwood and Woodside ask the sensible question?
Read more: Aide to MP Reed selected for South Norwood by-election
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