Yesterday’s London Mayoral victory was a significant political achievement for Boris Johnson, who from roughly 2 million voters, polled roughly 250,000 votes better than his party did. Lots of people have noticed this, and it should be recognised, showing the potential contribution an individual candidate can make to this sort of election, but so should two other points of particular interest for Police and Crime Commissioner elections.
Firstly, these Mayoral elections command very large electorates, and provide impressive mandates. PCC elections will not quite be of the same order, but they won’t be far off. Having performed so impressively in his own party’s mid-term compared to how well he did when they were the home of the protest vote, his personal mandate and brand is significantly strengthened. Authenticity seems to work. This could make party candidates more inclined to be themselves. Either that, or there will be good money to be made in teaching people how to fake authenticity!
Boris’s impressive achievement still resulted in a narrow victory. He didn’t clear the magical 50% figure on the first round, so the second preferences of everyone who had voted for someone who wasn’t in the top two were used to redistribute those votes.
The count was tense. After all this time ahead in the polls, and having come first on first preferences, could Boris really lose? But a quick look at the most well supported minor parties showed the bulk of the votes with the Greens, the Lib Dems and an Independent. How many Greens really prefer Boris? How many of what remains of the Lib Dems really support Labour? How many of Siobhan Benita’s voters were voting for her, then Ken, and how many for her instead of Ken?
We don’t know. That data varies between not available, not counted and not released. What we do know is that Ken had more than 55% of the second preferences, to Boris’s 45%, but as there were so few of them, Ken’s 10% lead was not enough to bring his total beyond that of Boris, leaving him 62,538 votes behind. On a total vote of 2.2 million, that’s not a whole lot to win or lose by, but it is enough.
Which leads us to our often-overlooked second point. The total level of votes for candidates other than Boris and Ken was 346,626, but only 185,235 second preferences were counted. This means that 161,391 people, or more than two times the eventual winning margin, either expressed no second preference, or used a second preference that was not counted because it was not for one of the two main candidates.
Put differently, just shy of 16% of voters gave their first preference to a candidate other than the two front runners. Of those, 53% who had clearly made their point then made the real decision that everyone knew the election was about, and a whopping 47%, representing 7.3% of the total votes in the first round, did not. This happened despite just about everyone who voted knowing who those top two candidates were going to be.
The PCC elections are less predictable, so rarely will be as clear as this in terms of who the two front runners are to be, and to be fair there are perhaps unlikely to be as many candidates, apart from in Sussex where the whole population appears to be standing. The ‘minor’ candidates, the second preferences of those who support them, and the varying tendencies of those supporters to express those preferences could make all the difference in these elections.