On Campaign Materials Alone, Khan Deserves to Beat Goldsmith

Based just on the campaign materials that we’ve received from the two leading candidates, Sadiq Khan deserves to beat Zac Goldsmith in today’s election for London Mayor.[1] Now this isn’t to say that the slick newspaper pull-out-style flyer that we received from Mr. Khan’s campaign is particularly good. The centre page is roughly 70% picture, and what text there is goes big on emphasising the candidate’s background or restating the problems (which I credit voters with already being aware of). Fair enough on the background stuff, you might say; it’s OK for Mr. Khan to differentiate himself from his main rival on the basis of their backgrounds. And you’d be right. On the basis of background alone I’d much prefer the next Mayor of London to be a ‘council estate boy’ whose father was a bus driver than a man who once saw a bus as a child.[2] But there’s also the small matter of policy and, if you glanced at the material, you’d be forgiven for coming away knowing only that Mr. Khan is a ‘council estate boy’ whose father was a bus driver. Did you hear that? Apparently he’s a ‘council estate boy’ whose father was a bus driver. So, in my judgement the balance isn’t quite right but there’s just about enough content in there, if you look beyond the generic language, to get a sense of the candidate’s policy priorities and orientations. Thus, if you don’t have the time or inclination to check out his website, as most people may well not, the materials at least give you a sense of Sadiq Khan’s plans if elected.[3]

Zac Goldsmith’s materials are a different beast altogether. Our flat has received one letter and one mailshot from Mr. Goldsmith’s campaign,[4] and the format of the former means that there’s plenty of text to work with here. There are three main problems that I can see:

  1. Attack campaigning. Even before the recent controversy over the Prime Minister’s claim that Sadiq Khan had questions to answer about who he has shared platforms with in the past, the letter we received went big on negative campaigning. Apparently, a ‘dangerous four-year Khan-Corbyn experiment will put London’s future at risk.’ This claim that Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan are two peas in a pod is an inaccurate oversimplification that ignores the diversity of opinion in the Labour Party, and reinforces the unhelpful idea that political parties are monolithic entities. Sure, Mr. Corbyn and Mr. Khan will share some ideas, but they’ll also differ on others, and his mayoralty be no more of a dangerous experiment for London than would Mr. Goldsmith’s. Also, this focus on bad-mouthing the other candidate creates the second problem.
  2. Absence of policy. Again, people can see his website if they want more policy detail, though I doubt many will get beyond skimming it. In that light, and given how much more text-heavy Goldsmith’s materials are, there’s remarkably little in the way of concrete policy proposals. Indeed, whilst the section of the letter attacking Sadiq Khan is three paragraphs long, the section outlining Mr. Goldsmith’s ‘action plan for Greater London’ is one short paragraph with no specifics. This is complemented on the associated leaflets with four generic two-word phrases that are supposed to give insight into what he would do if elected Mayor. I mean, seriously, ‘More Homes’, ‘Better Transport’, ‘Cleaner Air’, and ‘Safer Streets’? Phew, it’s lucky he clarified those positions, otherwise I never could have differentiated him from all the other candidates who want fewer homes, worse transport, dirtier air, and more dangerous streets. Give me a break.
  3. Cynical use of numbers. As someone with a passing interest in the use of numbers in politics, and a bit of a pedantic side, this is the most aggravating of the three problems for me. Mr. Goldsmith has been going really big on the fact that he increased his majority as an MP by almost 19,000 votes between 2010 and 2015. Apparently this ‘is proof he successfully stood up and delivered for his constituents.’ Nonsense. Another large change happened between 2010 and 2015: public opinion turned dramatically against the Liberal Democrats. So, whereas Mr. Goldsmith was challenging a respected incumbent Liberal Democrat MP in 2010, in 2015 he was the incumbent MP and his main opposition was hampered by the fact that voters no longer wanted to support their party.[5] Indeed, looking at the results, we can fairly assume that most of the voters who abandoned the Liberal Democrats in Richmond Park in 2015 went to Labour, the Green Party, and UKIP, who between them gained over 9,000 votes from 2010 to 2015. By contrast, Mr. Goldsmith gained fewer than 5,000 votes. That’s still a decent bump, and Mr. Goldsmith may be a good MP, but his success in 2015 resulted from a changing national political picture more than anything else. I think he knows this, and I think his campaign manager knows this too. Yet, they still chose to spin the numbers hard. I call that cynical campaigning.

So, whilst the Sadiq Khan campaign materials that we’ve received are a little lacking in content, they’re still a darn sight better than those we’ve been sent by the Zac Goldsmith campaign. On that basis alone, I’d say that Mr. Khan deserves to beat Mr. Goldsmith today. Oh, and I’d also say thank goodness for the guide to candidates that was sent to households by London Elects. Well done them.

 


[1] And, barring a major shock, he will.

[2] Thanks to The News Quiz for that observation.

[3] Albeit a vague enough sense that it’ll be difficult for many to recall what he pledged and check whether he’s done it.

[4] Bizarrely, my flatmate, who shall remain nameless, is a member of another political party but received both pieces of campaign material addressed to him. I’m not a member of a political party but haven’t received a jot. Is it something I’ve said?

[5] Crucially, voters had largely turned against the Liberal Democrats because of their association with Mr. Goldsmith’s party in the Coalition Government.

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