Beware of the Underdog
By Kat Logut

The London mayoral election is over a year away, but the race to identify who is going to challenge the current incumbent, Sadiq Khan, is already well underway. In pursuit of his third term, Khan shows no signs he wants to give up. In a recent interview with The Guardian, he spoke confidently about his plans to continue as Mayor (and how he might even attempt another one after that), pledging his commitment to continue improving the lives of all Londoners.

Many London residents are questioning whether someone should hold a position for such a prolonged period, particularly when it comes to political leadership. Holding on to the reins of one of the world’s most dynamic and diverse cities can take its toll.

Given the current state of national politics, a Tory victory in London next year seems unlikely but so, too, did one in 2008 when another Labour incumbent was seeking a third term in office. The history of how one Boris Johnson revived his stuttering career by winning a stunning victory over Ken Livingstone ought to give pause to anyone writing off the chance that the capital could again throw up a surprise in 2024.

But to do so the Conservative party will really need to pick the right candidate. According to data from Roxhill Media, Paul Scully MP and Susan Hall, a member of the London Assembly are currently enjoying more media coverage than their competitors, possibly because of the current titles they hold.

But what qualities do they need to possess in order to defeat Khan?

Voters today seek a leader who can cut through the political noise with charm and magnetism. This, in many ways is a presidential style of contest, based around individual personalities rather than divided by party lines. Can any of the names in the frame create the magic that Boris achieved in 2008? The circumstances are similar but in Boris Johnson’s favour, he was already a celebrity. He would appear on the BBC’s Have I Got News for You for ten thousand pounds each appearance. He already had the crowd in the palm of his hands. Whether he was trusted to do a good job was another story entirely.

But then again, Ken Livingstone was a popular and well-established Mayor. He bravely opted for a new Oyster card system on the tube which was a roaring success, helped London win the Olympics and introduced the Boris Bike scheme (both of those Mr Johnson went onto claim for himself, which to this day will no doubt continue to infuriate his then opponent). Johnson’s campaign was initially seen as a long shot. The conservative candidates face a similar challenge now.

In the way that Johnson campaigned on crime in his first election, promising to halt and reverse the rise in knife crime – any challenger needs to clearly articulate what they will do to make a difference. Spreading promises far and wide will not achieve cut through.

However there is one last fly in Sadiq’s ointment – the Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) he intends to roll out across outer London, an area that still suffers from poor transport links and reliance on car usage. In pursuit of cleaner air, the Mayor is holding firm. But nothing has united outer London quite like it – several Conservative councils have joined forces to take the Mayor of London to court, disputing his consultation methods and impact assessments. In a cost of living crisis, households having to trade in cars for newer models is causing a ripple of anger in the leafier suburbs. Can a Conservative challenger take advantage of this?

It is a waiting game to see if any of them can pull off a coup in the way that Johnson did in 2008. But this is politics so anything can change in an instant. Buckle up – this could be quite a ride.