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Sadiq Khan Accuses Conservatives of Manipulating Mayoral Election as he Pushes Starmer to Repeal Voting Changes

The re-standing London Mayor has pledged to lobby for the reversal of the Conservative’s controversial election changes he claims are designed to benefit PM Sunak’s party.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan outside Parliament last August. Photo: PA Images / Alamy

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London Mayor Sadiq Khan has accused the Conservative Government of rigging Britain’s electoral system to benefit them, in an interview with Byline Times.

Mr Khan, who is running for a record third term on May 2, says he is pushing his own party to significantly alter or scrap the new mandatory voter ID rules, and believes Sir Keir Starmer would reverse Conservative changes to the mayoral voting system if elected.

The London Labour Mayor told this outlet: “The Conservative Party is the most successful political party in the democratic world. Why? Because they win elections and in between elections, they change the rules to make it more likely they win.” 

He pointed to two major changes the Conservatives have made recently, allegedly for “a simple reason: to maximise their chances of winning, and to minimise Labour’s chances of winning.”

In 2022 under the Elections Act, ministers changed the voting system for the mayoral election to first past the post, whereas previously voters could put a second preference that would be counted if their first choice lacked majority support. 

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The change is likely to suppress the vote of smaller parties like the Greens and Lib Dems, whose voters could previously “vote with your heart in relation to their first preference, and then give a second preference– an insurance policy– to one of the two bigger parties,” Mayor Khan said, speaking from a campaign event a London Waterloo church. 

The margin of victory for the former lawyer last time on first preferences was 5%, but he was boosted significantly by the second preferences of Green and Lib Dem voters.

Mr Khan also condemned mandatory photo ID rules, which will be used for the first time in this mayoral election round. 

City Hall has claimed that in London  around 15% of Londoners– roughly 900,000 people– haven’t got an appropriate photo ID. The Government’s figures put the figure at closer to 5%, but either figure is dramatically more than the rate of impersonation fraud allegations, which photo ID is supposed to tackle. 

Voters will need to use a driver’s licence, a passport, or other forms of ID such as an older person’s travel card. However, young person’s Railcards are not accepted, leading to considerable condemnation from electoral watchdogs.  

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For Labour, the changes have boosted the party’s calls for Green and Lib Dem voters to opt for Khan in the mayoral election, now that they no longer have a chance to put a second preference. “I say in a respectful way, those parties cannot win on May 2,” the incumbent Mayor claimed. 

He also renewed his attacks on competitor Conservative Susan Hall, naming her in a rare move.

“The choice on May 2nd is building a fairer, safer, greener city with me, or Susan Hall who will take us backwards….Susan Hall is somebody who supported Donald Trump in the past, she’s liked Enoch Powell, and she cheered on Liz Truss’ budget– that’s the sort of Mayor we could have.” 

Asked if he had asked Sir Keir to repeal voter ID and the election rule change to First Past the Post, the Mayor told Byline Times: “Yeah. I think the Labour party has already committed in the mayoral election to go back to the previous system…And I’m lobbying the Labour Party, making the point: what is the [issue] you’re trying to address with photo ID? To me, there’s no evidence in relation to the concerns the Tories are saying about the need for photo ID.”

He believes that in urban seats like London, there may be a higher proportion of people who lack photo ID. However, election expert Rob Ford has argued: “Even if turned away voters leaned heavily Labour, the share of voters turned away and not returning would have to be massively above that observed anywhere else in the country for the impact to be on the scale claimed [by London Labour].” Around 14,000 voters were turned away and did not return due to photo ID problems in last May’s local elections, though it amounts to a small percentage of voters overall.

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London Labour has repeatedly poured cold water on polling showing Mr Khan around 20 points ahead of his Conservative opponent, with Khan noting that in 2008, “everyone said there’s no chance for [Boris] Johnson, and it’s in the bag for Ken Livingstone. We know how that movie ended.” 

Despite his headline poll lead, recent polling by QMUL/YouGov shows that Londoners are generally dissatisfied with Mayor Sadiq Khan. Khan’s approval rating sits at -16, particularly among older voters and those in outer London. However, the Government’s approval rating is dramatically lower, at -55. 

A separate recent ITV London/Survation poll found that the cost of living is the most pressing issue influencing London voters, with 41% putting it top, far ahead of crime (12%), health (11%), the economy (9%), housing (9%), and the ULEZ charge (6%).

A Centre for London/Savanta poll found that over half of Londoners think Mayor Khan has done a good job of making London more diverse, multicultural and tolerant, managing the transport network and protecting green spaces, the LDN newsletter reported. But his handling of homelessness, housing, and knife crime and gang issues is viewed less positively.

One of the biggest challenges facing all candidates– but perhaps particularly Labour given its support base– is a lack of awareness about the mayoral election, with only 40% of those under 35 knowing it was taking place, according to the same Savanta poll. 

Sadiq Khan was speaking at an event to launch his new pledge to end street homelessness in London by 2030, if Labour is elected nationally in this year’s General Election, and he is re-elected at City Hall. 

Susan Hall AM’s campaign was contacted for comment. 

Byline Times needs your help to investigate disinformation and electoral exclusion as we head towards the 2024 General Election.

We’re asking for your help to keep track of dodgy campaigning this election, so if you spot anything that bears investigation, please email us at votewatch24@bylinetimes.com.

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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