General election: ‘Why Khan’s win shows climate must be key to our campaign’

Sadiq Khan
Photo: London Labour

Britain, as a whole, isn’t like London – a densely populated multicultural metropolis of nine million people. But it has more in common with the rest of the country than is often suggested.

In London, Sadiq Khan has won three election victories in a row facing an onslaught from the Tory Party and their media allies, often deploying dogwhistle racism – and latterly compounded by conspiracy theorist culture warriors.

Sadiq knows how to win. And Keir Starmer and the Labour team should be looking to learn from him and his campaign team, not least on how you can make environment and climate change commitments appeal to a key section of the electoral coalition the party needs to build if we are to overturn a Tory majority and deliver a Labour government after 14 years in opposition and four election defeats in a row.

The Tories made a mistake about the electorate in London

Early reports of a higher voter turnout in outer London caused media speculation that Susan Hall was the likely winner.

However, what those figures would go on to show was that Sadiq had actually won by a bigger margin than in any other mayoral campaign he had run. It’s the only time a London mayor has won a third term, and to do so with an increased vote was immense. Some outer London regions swung towards Sadiq – the voters Hall relied on either stayed home or went Labour. Why?

For starters, the Tories made a mistake about the electorate. They thought the voters were like them – outraged at action to clean London’s air and full of energised fury at London’s bike lanes and climate change commitments.

Their whole campaign focused on scrapping the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ). They were so certain of this approach, they didn’t bother to ask Londoners if they actually wanted this – in fact, scrapping ULEZ was not something Londoners prioritised. More Londoners support than oppose it.

This may have been a misjudgement from Hall’s campaign, but Sadiq’s team made sure they were not complacent around it. They tactically ruled out the introduction of ‘pay per mile’, leaving the Tories looking like conspiracy theorists for banging on about how it was going to be secretly introduced.

Labour’s offer allowed Greens and Lib Dems to lend their votes

But they also took seriously putting together a bold offer for Greens and Lib Dem voters to allow them to lend Labour their vote. With a promise of a plan to make London’s rivers swimmable, to make London’s schools net zero and funding to help all of London make their streets greener, wilder and healthier, this was a tangible set of asks that utterly outstripped the offer from the Green candidate whose manifesto boasted as its number one climate offer “develop[ing] the current climate budget process with a clear timeline and projects to meet 2030 commitments”.

This meant Green, Lib Dem and climate-conscious Conservative voters didn’t need to hold their nose and vote for Sadiq, but instead could confidently endorse a climate leader with genuine credentials on the issue and a record of leadership and delivery.

These voters were woken out of their complacency by an optimistic campaign that used environmental issues as a motivator when the Tories had hoped it would be a spur to their voters. We believe the same can be true in the general election across the country.

Sadiq has shown the Tories’ culture war for what it is – an attempt to divert voters from the optimistic, globally engaged London, and indeed, Britain that they actually want. It wasn’t just the mistake of the Conservatives to think they could win London with a candidate who embraced conspiracy nuts and those who “applaud” the destruction of public property.

Sadiq ran on his record – but also his vision to improve London

Sadiq’s campaign team of seasoned operators knew that taking pay per mile off the table needed to be more than matched with an optimistic offer. The campaign linked in with Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves, Angela Rayner and Ed Miliband to show how a third-term mayor could still be exciting and offer something new – Sadiq’s ambition for a greener London, not held back by a climate delayer like Rishi Sunak but running with the winds of an incoming Labour government.

One with a central mission of ensuring Britain plays it part in striving to hit the Paris 1.5⁰C climate goal – required if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. Sadiq is an experienced candidate, but ran both on his record and also his ideas for making London a fairer, greener and healthier place to live in the future.

Sadiq and his environment deputy mayor Shirley Rodrigues have shown ULEZ can be delivered in a way that quickly gathered the support of many people living within it. Sadiq’s record of environmental delivery includes rewilding beavers, planting twice as many trees as his predecessor and marking out London as a global climate change leader, even as Sunak moved our country in the opposite direction. That is why Greenpeace felt able to tell their supporters to back Sadiq.

The environment must be central to Labour’s election campaign

It is absolutely right that Labour must head into the general election campaign with positive policies and stories to tell about the priority issues for the British people suffering after 14 years of Tory chaos – cost of living, the NHS, housing, insecurity at work, national security.

But this applies to climate change and the environment too. If we are to bring people who have previously supported other parties, or who haven’t felt that any party has had a plan to address their issues, an optimistic campaign with an environment and climate mission as one of its key threads can be a real winner.

As Labour’s environment and climate affiliate, that’s part of what our members will be talking about as we campaign for Keir Starmer to be our next Prime Minister.

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