UK Politics

UK Local Elections: Mayoral races could save Sunak from disaster

London Mayor Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan is heavy odds-on to win a third term as Mayor of London

Next week is critical for Rishi Sunak, with plausible speculation that he could be removed, but Paul Krishnamurty expects better news for the Tories in the mayoral races...

  • Sadiq Khan to win but underperform again

  • Andy Street still highly competitive

  • Tees Valley looks very hard to call

Next Thursday sees the final round of elections before the General Election. Although we still don't know the precise date of that, meaning it is possible there will be another by-election somewhere, this is effectively the last real test for Rishi Sunak before he goes to the country.

If the results are as bad for the Tories as many expect, he might even be removed before getting the chance.

There is indeed very much at stake, and not just for Sunak. In addition to council seats, there are some big Mayoral contests in metropolitan areas. These races will likely generate the biggest headlines and they may well not produce great results for Labour.

Despite apparently seamless progress towards No.10, Keir Starmer could plausibly suffer some major setbacks. Here's what is in play.

Khan 95% likely to remain London Mayor

Sadiq Khan is an extremely prohibitive 1.051/20 chance to win a third term as London Mayor. Any other result seems unthinkable in a city where Labour are totally dominant at Parliamentary level and lead opinion polls by around 25%. Success will therefore be measured by his margin of victory and vote share. These are where the interesting bets lie.

Khan has a negative approval rating - 39-49 according to the latest YouGov poll. London under his stewardship is hardly without it's problems, from crime to housing. Unlike in previous elections, he will not benefit from second round transfers from left-of-centre parties, because the voting system reverts to First Past the Post.

I have a feeling this will be seen as a lost opportunity for the Tories. Had they picked a liberal-minded, relatively non-partisan candidate, they might have had a chance of landing a huge upset. Remember, Boris Johnson won London twice when positioning himself in that way.

Instead, they picked a Trump-supporting Brexiteer in a city that supports the complete opposite. Susan Hall is a very poor candidate, as demonstrated in numerous car-crash interviews. Therefore, she won't be able to monopolize the anti-Khan or Khan-critical vote. Many of those types will simply choose another alternative without hope of success.

So how will Khan fare? Our vote share market points to around 45% and today's Savanta survey has him on 46%. (His range has been between 43%-51%). However he very much underperformed the polls in the first round last time, scoring 40% when some had him at 50%. I think we'll see a repeat and have laid 45.00-49.99% at 2.56/4.

Can Andy Street hold on in West Midlands?

The crazy thing about Hall's selection in London is the Tories already have a template for that relatively moderate candidate, who can win a big city. Andy Street, former managing director of John Lewis, has already won the West Midlands Mayoralty twice. His first round share rose from 42% to 49% between 2017-2021.

With massive swings recorded against the Tories everywhere since 2021, he is up against it, but the polls show a close race. The last two show a lead between 3-6% and, notably, Redfield and Wilton show a total collapse of the Reform vote (mostly in Street's favour).

I think that is a very plausible trend where the Tory has local name recognition and popularity. Street's approval rating is a highly impressive +22%. With Labour's Richard Parker still polling well below 50%, I think he's vulnerable in effectively a two-horse race, and have laid 1.42/5.

Houchen favourite for Tees Valley Mayor

Ben Houchen's victory in the 2021 Tees Valley Mayoral Race, by astonishing 51% margin, reflected the peak of post-Brexit Toryism. On the same night they swept to a huge victory in Hartlepool. A symbolic storming of Labour's heartlands. Houchen was even talked up as a future leader.

Four years on, his party are projected to lose all their Red Wall gains and his flagship 'levelling up' project is mired in corruption allegations. This result may well hinge on how much that story has cut through to Tees Valley voters.

We have very little polling evidence to work on. Redfield and Wilton recorded Houchen and Labour's Chris McEwan tied on 47%. Previously, a firm called Censuswide had Labour ahead by 32%! There is a lot of guesswork required here and I have not yet played the market.

As is stands, Houchen is favourite at 1.748/11. Again, his approval ratings are positive, at +12% according to that latest poll although more than half were undecided.

Mayoral wins would trump council losses

Before polling day, I will update these markets and also discuss the council elections. Here the news is more predictably grim for the Tories, with 500 or more seat losses rated around 71% likely at odds 1.42/5.

However all things considered, these mayoral races could save Sunak from disaster. Speculation remains rampant that he will be forced to suffer a Confidence Vote after this round of elections and he could plausibly resign rather than face that humiliation. But if they can win West Midlands and Tees Valley, the narrative will be mixed and, whatever happens in the council elections, the reaction won't be all good for Starmer either.

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