The current fashion for open primaries is yielding some interesting results in the London mayoral election campaign. Both Conservative and Labour parties announced that they would organise open on-line primaries for the final stage of their selection of mayoral candidates. Accordingly, the Muslim Council of Britain issued a statement urging London Muslims to take part:

Muslims in London urged to participate in open primaries for London Mayoral Candidates

31st July 2015

In May 2016 Londoners will decide who to elect as the next Mayor of London. The Muslim Council of Britain encourages Muslims in London to participate in candidate selections from all the political parties…. As this is an open primary, you do not need to be a political party member to have a vote…The Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain, Dr Shuja Shafi said: “The Mayor of London plays a crucial role in making sure we can fight issues such as inequality, Islamophobia and the housing crisis in our capital. It is important that all Muslims throughout London actively participate in these primaries so that the best candidates are selected and the best Mayor of London is elected to benefit not only the Muslim community but all the people of London.”

We don’t know how many London Muslims responded to this call. What we do know is that when the results of the Labour primary were announced, Sadiq Khan had been chosen by a decisive majority.

The Conservative primary results will be announced in about a week’s time. The current favourite to win is Zac Goldsmith. But he may be unlikely to get the votes of any participating Muslims, because one of the four candidates shortlisted is Syed Kamall. So if the Muslim vote has a significant impact on the result of the primary, it seems quite possible that Londoners wishing to vote for the Conservative or the Labour mayoral candidates will be offered a choice between two Muslims, and the next mayor of London will presumably be a Muslim.

On 10th-12th of August, Yougov conducted an online poll on prospects for the London mayoral election. Respondents were asked a series of questions on how comfortable they would be if the next mayor of London belonged to various groups. The number saying they would be comfortable in each case exceeded the number who would be uncomfortable. But the comfortable/uncomfortable division varied greatly. 90% said they would be happy with a woman as mayor; 4% said they would be uncomfortable. 71% would be comfortable with a gay mayor (16% uncomfortable), 76% would be comfortable with a mayor from an ethnic minority (13% uncomfortable). But only 55% were comfortable with a Muslim mayor, compared with 31% who would be uncomfortable. This is the kind of question in which the politically correct answer is pretty obvious and it seems possible that the degree of discomfort felt by Londoners at the idea of a Muslim mayor is underestimated and the 31% anti-Muslim vote would be higher.

What will happen?

The election is not until May 2016 and much can happen before that, but it does not seem particularly likely that Londoners’ anti-Muslim discomfort will have diminished in the next eight months. Very many Londoners will want to vote but will be reluctant to vote for a Muslim candidate. If Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative candidate, he may well be successful. If Syed Kamall is the Conservative candidate, there will be a reaction against both the main parties. In any case voter turnout will probably be lower this time round, in the absence of a candidate with a strong personal appeal.

In some ways the situation is similar to what it was at the time of the first London mayoral election in 2000, when Tony Blair prevented Ken Livingstone from standing. Livingstone defied him and stood as an independent – and was successful. Livingstone made his peace with Labour and was duly endorsed and re-elected in 2004. He seemed unbeatable until the Conservatives put forward Boris Johnson. Boris won and is still there. Personality has so far counted for more than substance in the London mayoral election. So it seems quite possible that some high-profile outsider will appear and will take advantage of the situation. Or this could be an opportunity for UKIP….