Sadiq Khan’s intelligent campaign is a blueprint for Labour

By Hamish Porter / @HamishP95


For many, especially the myriad of political journalists who reside in the greatest city on Earth, the forthcoming London Mayoral election is an intriguing event in the political calendar. And even more so this time around. The heavyweight era of Johnson vs Livingstone has ended. Step forward the new bloods, Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, both aiming to deliver a knockout blow to the other and their parties by winning the keys to City Hall. Many expect it to be another photo finish where no-one has a clear advantage and it goes down to the wire.

But Sadiq currently has Zac on the ropes and is beginning to pull ahead on the scorecard, mainly thanks to team Khan’s clever campaign that is focusing entirely on issues that matter to a large group of the electorate and attempting to have the fight take place on their home turf.

Over the past few weeks, Sadiq has pummelled Zac on one topic and one topic only: housing, the lack of it, and the affordability of it in London. The election is being portrayed as a “referendum on London’s housing crisis” on Labour campaigning material, and in the media and on the ground, the Labour candidate is continuously reminding voters that while Zac may talk about fixing the housing crisis that is reaching breaking point, his actions are speaking louder than his words; his support for the Housing Bill, which forces local councils to sell off houses to help offset the cost of expanding the Right to Buy scheme, is evidence of that.

Zac’s difficulty in responding to these attacks has doubled the effectiveness of them, and from recent interviews, it appears his superstar aurora that surrounded him when he first entered the contest is starting to be worn down, partially from the aggressiveness from the Khan campaign and partially his own failure to develop a quality reply to these accusations.

If the Goldsmith campaign wanted to mimic this idea of home-field advantage, they had a fairly obvious target to home in on: the underground, particularly the Night Tube and the difficulties with getting the unions to sign up to it. There is no doubt that Londoners everywhere, but especially the young well-educated professionals, a demographic far less likely to vote Tory, want to see the Night Tube operating at full efficiency as soon as possible. Here and there, the Tories have mentioned Sadiq’s links to the trade unions who they accuse of delaying the launch of the Tube, but with nowhere near the pinpoint accuracy and succinctness on housing that has been a staple of Sadiq’s strategy, and this has proven the key difference between the two campaigns thus far.

And this difference is beginning to show in those divisive things we call opinion polls. Believe them or not, according to the latest one (YouGov, January), in the second round of voting, Sadiq will defeat Zac by 10 percentage points, 55% to 45%. This is also the biggest gap in

voting intention between the two candidates to date, although previous polls did take into account don’t knows, which made up a large proportion of responses. Even so, the current trends are encouraging for all those who wish or even need to see a Labour mayor in City Hall.

The team at the top of the Labour Party hierarchy could also learn much from the skilful way Sadiq and his team are playing the game of politics. Rather than focusing on trivial issues that the general public either disagree with the leadership on, or really don’t have an interest in, Labour should be focusing entirely on attacking and offering an alternative to the Tories in their current spots of bother – such as their current battle with the doctors, which doesn’t appear to be coming to a happy ending any time soon. By steering the ship of discussion away from the icebergs of the Falklands and Trident, and instead towards the safe, calm seas of the NHS crisis (funding and staff), economic “growth” built on increased household debt, and the immense and varied challenges that face future generations, Labour’s advisers can put the party in a position to hit the Tories where it hurts on country-wide issues, hopefully echoing Sadiq’s early success in the race to rule the capital.

In a world where two outsiders claimed victory by a large margin in the New Hampshire primary last week, nothing in contemporary politics is a forgone conclusion. However, helped by an incisive campaign that focuses on problems ordinary Londoners face in their everyday working lives, the ball is in Sadiq’s court right now. If he defeats Zac Goldsmith and turns London red again, which looks likelier than ever, Team Corbyn have been provided with an excellent blueprint to use in future elections. One can only hope that they use it.

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