Londoners will no longer be able to pick a second choice when they vote for the Mayor of London in the next elections in 2024, after Lords failed to block a change to the law on Wednesday night (April 6). Peers voting on the controversial Elections Bill – which will introduce mandatory voter ID for all elections in England – narrowly rejected attempts to stop the government changing the mayoral voting system.
The current arrangement lets voters pick a second preference, which is used if their first choice candidate doesn’t have majority support, and means mayors tend to need more than 50 per cent of the vote to win. The Labour Party, Greens and Lib Dems say the move to a first-past-the-post system would let a mayor win on a fraction of the vote – closing the gap between Sadiq Khan and a Tory opponent.
Kyle Taylor, director of campaign group Fair Vote UK added: “This Bill seeks to disenfranchise voters and rig the system in favour of the government of the day. Its measures will also make more elections run on the outdated first-past-the-post system, turning back the clock on decades of democratic progress…there is still time for brave peers to mitigate some of the damage this wrecking ball of a Bill will do to our democracy. “
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Labour benefits from the current “supplementary vote” system as large numbers of Greens and Lib Dems put Mr Khan as their backup choice. Nearly 200,000 second preference votes went to Mr Khan last May, compared to just 6,000 for Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has previously been accused of rigging the voting system to help his own party win the mayoralty.
Election analyst Paddy Hennessy from the London Communications Agency said the change looks set to “make the Labour candidate’s chances harder”. “The Labour candidate at the next election loses the ‘insurance’ of picking up second votes from people who vote Lib Dem or Green first time round. In effect it turns the election into a single round, first-past-the post battle. The Tories may well think that – with a better candidate – they have a fighting chance of regaining the mayoralty in 2024,” he said.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, which opposes the change, told MyLondon: “This suggests the government has learnt nothing from the Owen Paterson and partygate affairs. It won’t end well when the government writes the rules to suit themselves.” Other groups such as Make Votes Matter are resisting the move to scrap second preferences.
Many mayors are against the proposals, which will effect elections in other mayor-led areas such as Manchester and the West of England. A spokesperson for Sadiq Khan hit out at the plans last year, saying: “While this government has previously been keen to stand by results of referendums, they are apparently abandoning that view by overturning the result of the referendum which saw Londoners vote overwhelmingly in favour of the current mayoral election system. This is a cynical move, and is just one of the seriously concerning parts of the Elections Bill that threatens to disenfranchise thousands of Londoners by introducing mandatory voter ID.”
The London Assembly has also previously hit out at the planned changes, voting overwhelmingly last year to reject the move in a motion backed by several Conservative AMs. Labour’s Léonie Cooper AM and the Greens’ Caroline Russell AM united to condemn what they describe as a “stitch up”.
Londoners voted in 1998 to back government plans for a London Assembly and mayor – elected by the current system. The majority of responses in a consultation at the time were against the use of the First-Past-the-Post system to elect the mayor. But Conservatives at Westminster point to the 2011 UK-wide Alternative Vote referendum, where voters rejected a different system for choosing MPs.
The Elections Bill gives the government the power to set the strategy and policy for the Electoral Commission, the body charged with ensuring elections are fair and free. The bill returns to the House of Lords on April 25. MyLondon understands they will not be able to block the mayoral voting system change.
A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “The Government was elected on a manifesto commitment to continue to support First Past the Post, which is a simple and fair system. Our changes to how mayors are elected will make sure they are held to account and bring them in line with other elections.”
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Josiah joined MyLondon as the outlet’s first City Hall Editor in October 2021, reporting on the Mayor, the London Assembly, the Met police, Transport for London, and wider London politics.
He moved to South London from Brussels in 2015, working in communications for the Electoral Reform Society, and covering Westminster politics as a freelance journalist. Originally from Cornwall, he is now also a proud Londoner. Josiah has appeared on BBC Radio 4, Times Radio, LBC and other outlets to discuss current affairs and general political chaos.
If you have an untold story – whether it’s a housing nightmare, an unfair decision or a local scandal, get in touch at [email protected] or contact Josiah on Twitter.