In May this year Londoners will vote for only the fifth time to directly elect the Mayor of the capital city. It is an election that will be the first to not feature Ken Livingstone. Boris Johnson – Britain’s most popular politician – will also be stepping aside (to spend more time in Uxbridge). With two new candidates in the race, Londoners have a chance to get to know some fresh faces. While the most recent polls give Labour’s Sadiq Khan the early lead, the race is really only just getting started.
The turn of the year has seen campaign activity ramp up, and with it the negative attacks. Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate, has been labelled “divisive and radical” by the Conservative campaign. Meanwhile, Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, has come under fire in recent days from Labour, particularly on his business credentials, with Sadiq Khan saying that his rival “doesn’t get how to work with business”. However, the view of the Capital’s business community itself does not necessarily align with Labour’s message.
ComRes research for the LCCI among London business decision-makers clearly shows that the business community appears to favour Zac Goldsmith and the Conservatives for London. Two thirds (68%) of London businesses think that Zac Goldsmith is pro-business, more than double the proportion (29%) who say the same of Sadiq Khan.
However, while the London mayoral race has historically been dominated by big personalities, it is not won solely by individuals. Particularly interesting therefore is how each candidate’s position relates to that of their Party.
For the Conservatives, party and candidate are closely in line. Three quarters (76%) of London business leaders say that the Conservatives under David Cameron are pro-business, roughly in line with those who say this of the Party’s candidate for the top job in London. This suggests that Mr. Goldsmith is aligned with the perceived pro-business stance of his party.
Things are very different for the Labour Party however. While Sadiq Khan’s pro-business score of 29% is far below that of his rival, it is twice the 14% who think that the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn is pro-business. Mr. Khan appears to be seen differently to his leader, whose party still suffers from a lack of economic credibility not just among businesses, but with the public as well. One of Mr. Khan’s biggest struggles may be how he manages to differentiate himself from the man he nominated for Labour leader.
Of course business leaders only get one vote each, just like any other Londoner. London showed at the 2015 General Election that it is not afraid to buck the trend. While the rest of the country turned ever more blue, London experienced a swingtowards Labour last May. Recent polls also have Mr. Khan in the lead.
The views of business leaders in isolation will not therefore decide the winner. Other issues and factors play on the minds of voters. However, at this early stage when voters are still getting to know these new candidates, the views of business can help to shape and influence the broader debates and arguments that Londoners are hearing.
Business confidence is not enough to win an election. However, it will certainly provide a fillip to a candidate that starts the election year behind his rival, and a lack of business support will not aid Mr. Khan’s differentiation strategy. In the absence of the big beasts of London elections gone by, it may take the capital city some more time to warm up to their new wannabe mayors.