OPINION - Even Susan Hall is a generic Conservative candidate

Tory London mayoral candidate Susan Hall (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Tory London mayoral candidate Susan Hall (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

Susan Hall is sui generis. Whether it is tweets endorsing Donald Trump or calling reality TV star Gemma Collins a “stupid fat blonde woman”, the Conservative candidate for Mayor has her own way of ingratiating herself with an electorate that, by the standards of British politics, skews left and liberal.

As a result, Hall makes great copy. She also invites light mocking. But that has never stopped me from noting she could yet win this contest. Partly, this is a result of ‘Khan fatigue’ as well as her opposition to the Ulez extension, but really it is down to one thing: the voting system. Two years ago, the government changed it for how we elect mayors. This is very good news for Hall.

Gone is the supplementary system – in which the top two candidates faced each other in an instant run-off – replaced by first-past-the-post. As a result, the winner of this contest could conceivably be elected on less than 40 per cent of the vote.

Turning to the latest polling, there is more positive news for Hall. A new survey by J.L. Partners for The Sun places Sadiq Khan on 35 per cent, just three points ahead of his Tory challenger. By any measure, this is a close race.

Khan is both underperforming Labour nationally as well as his own performance in 2021. But the problem for Hall is that while the mayor has more votes out there to reach the 40 per cent he achieved in the first round last time, it is less clear where the Conservative’s come from.

That is because when the election approaches, Labour will be confident it can ‘squeeze’ the Liberal Democrat (on five per cent in this poll) and Green (also five per cent) vote, much like it does at a general election. I can see the “Vote Lib Dem, get Susan Hall!” leaflets already. Whereas Hall is already pretty close to Shaun Bailey’s first-round tally.

There’s another issue for Hall, which is that some of her popularity appears to stem from the fact that a lot of Londoners don’t know who she is. Last month, a YouGov poll showing similarly bouncy numbers for the Conservative candidate noted that Hall remains an “unknown figure” to most voters.

In that survey, Hall enjoyed a net rating of +1, compared with Khan’s -12. But this is not comparing like with like. Khan is a two-time incumbent with near-total name recognition. 57 per cent of Londoners say they didn’t know who Hall is.

Being unknown can be a huge advantage, granting candidates the opportunity to introduce themselves to the electorate. The flip side is that voters will get the chance to learn about Hall. Something that does not always go down terribly well.

Candidate quality matters. But it is entirely feasible that London is going to end up doing what it usually does. And so, despite all the huffing and puffing (or coughing and wheezing, if Ulez opponents had their way) we may simply get a re-run of 2021, but without the second round.

In the comment pages, new star columnist Michael Wolff says Lachlan Murdoch is inheriting a media empire and a poisoned chalice. Editor Dylan Jones advises readers to hold on tight – it’s going to be one hell of a ride with Wolff. While Anne McElvoy suggests bosses must offer workers more than just snacks to tempt them back into the office.

And finally, viewers were (I’m told) left in hysterics over Prue Leith’s beaver cake innuendo. Great British Bake Off is truly back.

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