Friday, January 22News For London

On the campaign trail with Sadiq Khan – London Mayoral elections 2016

Photo by Peter Adams
Photo: Peter Adams

Labour are fighting to win back City Hall in May’s Mayoral elections. Westminster World took to the streets of Harrow, to see their candidate in action.

It’s about 10 O’Clock  when the Labour activists are finally assembled for a day’s doorstepping. Outside the entrance to Harrow-on-the-Hill station, activists young and old carry large leaflets, with Labour party stickers on their lapels.

Across the country, people very similar to them are carrying out a co-ordinated campaign to spread Labour’s message. This specific doorstepping campaign in Harrow is particularly important though. In amongst them is an MP who hopes to become Mayor of one of the most-populated cities in Europe.

Fog begins to descend on the high street, as Sadiq Khan starts to address his activists. Dressed in a long light-brown coat, Khan is calm and rehearsed, as he rouses the activists. There’s a quick oppurtunity for a group photo, and then the group disperses across the area, like dandelion seeds.

Word on the street

As Khan and inner circle of staff whizz off into the busy shopping centre, some activists mill around. Some of them are doing this leafleting business for the first time.

One middle-aged activist admits to Westminster World that he’s part of the Corbyn surge: since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader in September last year, there has been a surge in new members joining the Labour Party. The new leader has hurdles to overcome, but the activist insists he need only “learn the ropes”, and he’ll be in good stead.

The activists wind up in a residential area, away from the shopping centre. Khan is accompanied by Harrow East MP Bob Blackman, as he goes from door to door.

One activist admits that the door-to-door approach is difficult on Saturdays. Maybe the locals are having a lie-in? No, he replies. They’re more likely to be out shopping for the week ahead, probably.

Khan’s campaign so far

Sadiq Khan has been the MP for Tooting since May 2005, but a source close to Labour told Westminster World that he is unlikely to remain their MP, if he wins the Mayoralty. A Tooting by-election is on the cards, it seems.

Khan’s campaign has managed to gain some traction, despite the election still being about 3 months away. YouGov managed to publish the first poll of the new year for the Mayoral election, and it gives Mr Khan a 10-point lead already, over his rival, Tory candidate Zac Goldsmith.

This will be the first London Mayoral race, where Ken Livingston is absent, since they first started being held in 2000. There is a sense of transition about this year’s contest. The incumbent Mayor, Boris Johnson, is now a sitting MP, for the neighbouring constituency of Uxbridge.

Both Mr Khan and Mr Goldsmith are trying to plot out fresh new courses, in their quests to become London’s third elected Mayor of modern times.

The Khan effect?

As the day draws on in Harrow, Mr Khan and his activists decamp, and return to the hustle and bustle of the town centre. There is a pedestrianised area, and the activists all spread out, while Mr Khan starts approaching members of the public.

For most of the time that they’re there, Mr Khan and his team are constantly chatting with a group of at least three or four people at a time.

It’s fair to say that this type of political campaigning isn’t always very effective. The election is a few weeks away, but most of the shoppers aren’t terribly interested. An activist approaches a mother and her son, trying to hand them a leaflet. The mother almost recoils somewhat, and continues on her way, refusing to take the leaflet.

Another shopper, who’s going somewhere in a hurry also refuses a leaflet, but insists “I’m a member”, as he passes.

At one point, the issue of Mr Khan’s 10-point lead crops up. A member of Mr Khan’s entourage is detached from the main group for a time, and he admits that polls, no matter how good or bad, aren’t always the important things in elections. It’s the pressing-the-flesh which matters, in his opinion.

Such a view is quite sensible, given the fact that opinion polls in last year’s general election proved to stray quite far from the actual result. The poor polling predictions even triggered an inquiry (see press release here).

Another activist claims Mr Khan has “grounding in the community”, which serves him well in places like Harrow. He’s not just a face on a leaflet or a person on the telly; he’s actively seeking out people, and trying to win them over in person.

Community values may be useful for Mr Khan, but Caroline Pidgeon, the Liberal Democrat candidate, thinks other qualities, including experience in the London Assembly are crucial.

Speaking to Westminster World, she explains he views: “I have been on the London Assembly for 8 years. I know how…London’s government works…I could hit the ground running, were I to win”.

She continues: “People are keen to hear about my plans…how to deliver the extra homes London needs…a fairer fares regime…and how we tackle the cost of childcare in the capital.”

Based on the aforementioned opinion poll by YouGov, however, Caroline Pidgeon is placed behind UKIP and the Greens, with 4% support, in a hypothetical first round. As a result, it remains very much a two-horse race between the Tories and Labour, as it currently stands.