Opinion

Does Anyone Give Two F***s About This Mayoral Election?

Rachel Holdsworth
By Rachel Holdsworth Last edited 18 months ago
Does Anyone Give Two F***s About This Mayoral Election?

That's a genuine question. Outside the candidates, activists and (more or less) political journalists, do Londoners actually give a damn about this election?

The polls open at 7am on Thursday. A good friend, generally up to date with current affairs, last week confided that he hadn't realised polling day was so soon. Another conversation revealed that a smart young chap was under the impression the current mayor is Tessa Jowell.

Social media analysis by Centre for London shows relatively low Twitter hashtag usage (if 3,200 people can tweet about one event — the Evening Standard hustings — what does it say that all the campaigners and supporters across town can only generate 12,700 uses of #BackZac2016?).

Chats with journalists on other august London media outlets reveal that reader and viewer engagement is pitiful. We, here at Londonist, are seeing no different. You, dear reader, seemingly couldn't give a monkeys.

But this isn't your fault. Good grief, it's our job to cover this stuff and we've barely been able to summon the enthusiasm to drag ourselves to hustings. This election has been depressing, dispiriting and probably a whole bunch of other 'de'/'di' words we don't have the energy to look up.

We've got to the point where a national newspaper can do a quiz entitled 'Who said it: Britain First or Zac Goldsmith?', which sums up everything about the tenor of the campaign. Zac Goldsmith claims to not see the implications of using the words 'radical' and 'extreme' to describe his Muslim opponent — and who knows, he really may be that isolated and naive — but with less than a week to go penned an article that said Labour are friends with terrorists.

Can't imagine that happening if Tessa Jowell had got the nomination.

(For what it's worth, Goldsmith's team says the Mail's headline and unbelievably crass use of the bus blown up on 7 July 2005 was the paper's, not theirs. That may be true — we write headlines for contributors all the time — but also, websites change images and headlines all the time. Nobody in the Tory party has the number of the Mail's online desk to register an objection?)

Zero: the number of fucks Londoners give about the mayoral election? Photo by bradman334 from the Londonist Flickr pool.

All this — and more — in one of the country's most diverse cities? No wonder Londoners are taking one look at this election and thinking 'sod that'.

It's not all down to Zac. Sadiq Khan is nowhere near having the kind of charisma we've grown used to over 16 years of Boris and Ken — though monotone Zac isn't much better. Without the underlying tones of dogwhistle politics, what would the two have talked about? The issues? Excuse us for a moment while we break off to laugh hysterically.

Politics in this benighted country has degenerated to such a point that candidates are drilled to repeat the same stock phrases over and over again. Zac can't go anywhere without mentioning his "action plan for Greater London" or the number "£1.9bn". Sadiq must have "London is at a crossroads" in marker pen on his eyelids, as well as a self-deprecating 'joke' about how often his bus driver father crops up; except it's the same verbatim line every bloody time.

Campaigning is exhausting, we get it. You say the same things over and over again, the same phrasing will become automatic. Some strategist, somewhere, sometime, decided the general public is stupid/time poor/not interested so may only ever hear a candidate's strapline once — so better get the points in while they have a chance. But turning candidates into parrots is a guaranteed way to make us not interested. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Candidates like Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon have proved it's possible to have real discussions with real opinions about issues without sounding like a robot. But with all due respect, they're not going to be running the show as of next week. It'll be Sadiq or Zac.

Would a bit more time spent convincing Londoners they understand what matters have brought more of us into the fold? Would that have stopped us laughing on Twitter about how Zac can't hold a pint properly, or is such a big fan of Bollywood but can't name any films?

Or is that exactly what we want? Do politicians know precisely what they're doing, with the equivalent of throwing a ball and shouting "look, over there!" so they don't have to answer difficult questions about whether they'd eventually have to build on the green belt? Despite what we said earlier, has this dreadful campaign been our fault after all?

Like we said: polls open at 7am on Thursday. Darker mutterings among politics writers estimate a turnout of maybe 30%, which would give the new mayor a laughably thin mandate. This election has been tedious, drawn out and, at times, appalling. But it's still to decide who runs the city — transport, the police and planning. Do try and drag yourself to a polling station.

Find all Londonist's election coverage here. Go on — treat yourself.

Last Updated 04 May 2016

Alastair Rae

I started off not really caring either way but than Zac said he wanted to abolish bus lanes. Then the campaign turned into #nastyzac and he really started to get my goat. Sadiq gets my vote.

pilar

"Candidates like Sian Berry and Caroline Pidgeon have proved it's possible to have real discussions with real opinions about issues without sounding like a robot. But with all due respect, they're not going to be running the show as of next week. It'll be Sadiq or Zac." Ffs, if you genuinely think they are more appealing candidates then vote for Sian or Caroline. It's like saying..."I'm super cold. A jumper would help but hey ho." And then not putting on the jumper.

Paul Corfield

I'll vote but I'll probably have to take a very deep breath about voting for the Mayor. Constituency and Londonwide voting is easier to deal with but the main campaign has been appalling. The vile Tory campaign and the robot like Labour campaign are insulting and patronising in equal measure. And to think we've then got 7 weeks worth of EU referendum nonsense to cope with.

And to think we will have the Mayoral and General Elections and campaigns running side by side in 2020 ...... heaven help us.

Kay

Tessa would have been a better Labour candidate and not for any of the reasons people sensationalize. As a traditional LibDem voter I would vote for Tessa, she has what it takes to run London. And I am certain a Tessa candidacy would've been super invigorating to the whole mayoral campaign. In many ways our problem here is like that of the GOP in America, too many clowns/boring folks and nothing remotely exciting.

But the issue is deeper. Londoners dont seem to be educated about what a mayor does, what his responsibilities are and why it is so important to take part in choosing such an important position. You ask any Londoner on the street who isnt a politics junkie (like myself) and you will find they haven't got a clue on what the mayor can and can't do. So there is a civic issue here about the post of the mayor and informing people why its so crucial.

Then you have the wider problem of distrust in politics, particularly as isolationism seems to be at an all time high. Be it Scottish or English nationalism or just the 'I don't feel I am European thing', the UK is facing a major identity crisis, and its only natural this mirrors itself in the capital.

You look at the rapidly changing demographics of London. People coming in from all corners calling the city home (and thats great), but do they feel compelled to take part in shaping the future of their city? No, because most of them view London as a one-stop-shop. They'll be here for a few years and leave. And that constitutes a fair number of people.

The poor/old Londoners who get pushed to outside the M25 are no longer voting for a mayor today, again that brings the numbers down.

You look at French local elections and you see numbers in the 50% range. In their presidential elections it goes up to the mid-to-high 80s. We dont get near 60% in our general elections. So yes, there is an argument that local politics never really gets people out, but its never that bad, 30% in some countries is enough to cancel an elections...

James Guppy

People bleating on about how expensive housing is, this is wrong, that is wrong...you live in a democracy - use your vote or shut up complaining (since you won't use the only power you have to attempt to effect change). Also, given the nature of Goldsmith's racially divisive campaign I would urge everyone to vote Sadiq Khan to ensure such a candidate as Goldsmith does not get any power.

Roy

"Another conversation revealed that a smart young chap was under the impression the current mayor is Tessa Jowell." Ignorant, yes. Smart, not so much.