Mayor of London Sadiq Khan is embarking on a “lovebombing” campaign with Liberal Democrat voters in the capital, urging supporters of the smaller party to lend him their votes to ensure defeat for Tories in this year’s battle for City Hall.
The Labour mayor kicks off his re-election campaign this weekend with leaflets specifically targeted at Lib Dem voters, portraying the 7 May vote as a two-horse race between him and Conservative challenger Shaun Bailey and calling on them to help him “defend London’s values”.
And he has issued an appeal to Labour activists not to attack Lib Dem supporters, but to demonstrate how the party “shares their values”.
Launching his campaign in the Lib Dem stronghold of south-west London on Sunday, Khan will highlight his alignment with Liberal Democrat values on issues ranging from his pro-immigration stance to fighting against a no-deal Brexit and for EU citizens’ rights and defending liberal values on LGBTQ+ rights and gender and race equality.
The tactic marks a break from Labour’s traditional practice of turning a fierce fire on Lib Dems, and contrasts with the stress placed on their “socialist” credentials by some candidates in the race to replace Jeremy Corbyn as national leader.
It will be studied closely by Labour strategists struggling to find a way of reversing the party’s losses in last month’s general election, when Mr Corbyn resisted any suggestion of co-operation between the parties. With Lib Dems slumping to just 11 seats in the 12 December general election and currently between leaders following Jo Swinson’s ejection from parliament, some in the party regard its largely left-of-centre voters as ripe for poaching by Labour.
However, the unique political balance of the liberal and cosmopolitan capital may not be seen as comparable to the situation in northern and Midlands heartlands which Labour must regain to restore its fortunes nationally.
Polling in November gave Mr Khan a strong lead of 45 per cent to 23 per cent over Mr Bailey, with Lib Dem Siobhan Benita trailing on 8 per cent, behind the former Tory cabinet minister Rory Stewart - standing as an independent - on 13.
Some 46 per cent of those who voted Lib Dem in the 2017 general election said that they would make Khan their first preference in the mayoral vote, against 26 per cent for Ms Benita and 1 per cent for Mr Bailey.
The YouGov survey for Queen Mary University London suggested that winning over further chunks of Benita’s support could tip Mr Khan over the 50 per cent threshold to hold onto the mayoralty without the need for a second-round run-off.
Mr Khan said: “We shouldn’t attack the millions of people who decided to back the Lib Dems at the general election - instead we should be trying to demonstrate that we share their values, and work hard to earn their votes.
“This election is a two-horse race between me and the Conservative candidate.
“With the Tories in power in Westminster, this election is all about defending London's values of openness, tolerance and internationalism.
“So today I'm making a direct appeal to Liberal Democrat supporters in our city - lend me your vote so that I can stand up for London and for our values.”
Ms Benita responded: "Sadiq Khan must be rattled if he's trying to poach Lib Dem voters and especially targeting areas where we totally trounced the Labour party in the general election.
"But it does show that he sees me as a serious threat in the mayoral race - and with good reason. In the general election the Lib Dems increased our vote share in London while his Labour party lost ground - and imploded nationally. We now have thousands more active supporters and campaigners than at the time of the last mayoral election and the European elections showed we can win in London under a different, fairer voting system like we'll have next May.
"Too many things aren't working for London under this mayor. If Londoners want a liberal mayor with a positive vision, who can get things done and deliver a safer, kinder, greener London, a mayor who will love London better, their best option is me."
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