Sadiq Khan’s London triumph comes after bitter Tory battle

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As Sadiq Khan waited to deliver his victory speech on Saturday after clinching a record third term as London’s mayor, he shifted uneasily from one foot to the other.

The veteran Labour politician had come through a bruising and sometimes bitter contest. “It has been a difficult few months,” he told cheering supporters in his victory speech.

“It’s truly an honour to be re-elected for a third term, and do so with a record level of support from Londoners, with an increased margin of victory.”

After the polls closed on Thursday, Conservative insiders were briefing that the nation’s capital faced a tight race. But the result was an emphatic Labour win.

Khan, first elected mayor of the English capital in 2016, trounced Tory rival Susan Hall by 11 percentage points to secure a historic third term in office. His predecessors — Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson — served two terms each.

Khan secured more than 1,088,225 votes, around 43.7 per cent of the total. Hall received 812,397 votes.

Susan Hall makes a speech during an anti-Ulez demonstration in Trafalgar Square © Ray Tang/LNP

“This is a very bad result for the Conservatives,” said Tony Travers, professor of government at the London School of Economics. “Tories often give the impression in London that they’re not trying and have given up.”  

A stronger Conservative candidate could have harnessed voter dissatisfaction with Khan’s record of delivery to run a tighter contest, he said.

Hall’s campaign sought to make use of a backlash against rising crime rates and the recent expansion of the Ulez vehicle emissions charge to London’s outskirts — where the party generally performs better than it does in the centre.

She secured a majority of votes in some outer London boroughs including Brent and Harrow, but Khan overtook her in inner city areas such as Kensington and Westminster where the Tories hold several parliamentary seats. 

In her concession speech Hall accused Khan of “patronising” voters who cared about rising crime. “The thing that matters the most, and to me, is reforming the Met and making London safe again,” she said. 

Despite the last-minute briefings that an upset could be on the cards, the result met pollsters’ expectations. In the lead up to polling day, data from Savanta ComRes put Khan at 50 per cent and Hall at 26 per cent. Polls had narrowed to 10 points by Thursday. 

The most heated topic of contention between the campaigns was the expansion of the Ulez, which has attracted a growing protest movement.

Ulez was introduced by former Tory premier Boris Johnson when he was London mayor; since then, Khan has since expanded the scheme twice.  

Jon Tabbush, director of research at the Centre for London, a think-tank, said the Ulez had hit Labour’s vote in outer London boroughs but failed to generate a groundswell in Tory support. 

“Tactical voting has been far more effective than Labour had hoped — the Lib Dems are acting as a pressure valve for liberal Tories and London Greens are responding to squeeze on Labour,” Tabbush said. 

The contest was the first to be held under the first-past-the-post system, in a move that analysts thought could help the Conservatives. This is because under the previous system centre-left voters often picked another party in the first round, before backing Labour in the second round.

Labour was also buoyed by steady support in areas with large Muslim populations, unlike the drain it has experienced in other parts of the country over the party’s position on the Israel-Hamas war. 

Rounding off his victory speech on Saturday, Khan reflected on the national picture, joining other newly elected Labour mayors in calling for a general election.

“With a Labour party that’s ready to govern again under Keir Starmer, it’s time for Rishi Sunak to give the public a choice,” he said.  

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