The cancellation of the 2020 local elections has shaped the debate heading into the 2021 elections. London and Sadiq Khan's re-election bid is no different. He is running as a candidate for a deeply troubled city, facing opponents with the ability to reshape the debate against him. Noah Keate examines his record as Mayor and this year's election's ramifications.

2020 was the year of cancellations. Birthdays, holidays and exams, saw their brakes slammed by coronavirus. Another cancellation was an intrinsic part of representative democracy: local elections – with votes for metro mayors, councillors and London Mayor suspended for an entire year due to voting practicalities during a pandemic.

However, this has impacted on the forthcoming May elections. Due to last year's deferral, they will be the busiest ever, combining the elections from 2020 with the normal elections for 2021. Even as more people are vaccinated, this will prove difficult logistically, with Covid-secure mitigations necessary, such as encouraging people to bring their own pen to reduce risk of transmission.

There is also the risk of the public's attention to these elections being diverted. While much publicity will centre over Scottish and Welsh elections, due to threats of independence, lower profile elections could be muted, receiving little scrutiny.

Nevertheless, the London Mayoral elections deserve significant coverage. Normally occurring every four years since 2000, their 2020 cancellation meant Mayor Sadiq Khan received an extra year in office. With over six million people registered to vote, the individual representing the UK's capital has a significant role nationally and internationally.

These elections will see Labour's Khan face the Conservative's Shaun Bailey, a current London Assembly member. Other candidates range from the Green's Sian Berry to Piers Corbyn. 

With the Mayor having extensive powers in the capital, ranging from transport to the environment, and an £18.4 billion budget, this election is important. For example, despite the congestion charge being the norm today, it did not exist before Ken Livingstone's administration. Similarly, while Boris Johnson failed to deliver his Garden Bridge project, costing over £53 million, the success of 'Boris Bikes' and the Olympics shows the potential of the office to make an impact.

Consequently, how the election unfolds will be fascinating. To secure a second term, with TFL in serious financial difficulty due to the pandemic, Sadiq Khan faces the challenge of having to explain his plan to successfully work with central government, run by Conservatives, to secure necessary funding to allow people to continue using the Tube and bus networks for pleasure alongside business. 

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However, he will want to highlight his successes. This could include: investing £45 million in a Young Londoners' Fund; hiring 272 extra police to tackle violent crime; overseeing the introduction of the weekend night Tube; and freezing single Tube fares, approximately saving every Londoner around £200. On the environment front, he would be wise to raise attention to his £23 million scheme to allow purchasing of cleaner vehicles. 

Housing is also crucial, although he might neglect mentioning it, having secured £4.82 billion from central government towards council housing, but somehow having secured construction of fewer than 5,500 affordable homes with this money.

Given the evident strengths and weaknesses of Khan's first term, you may expect his opponent, Shaun Bailey, to have a good chance, particularly with a whole extra year to galvanise momentum. You would be wrong.

Swept up in controversy, Bailey stands accused of fraud by opponents, for publishing leaflets with fake City Hall insignia and no explicit Conservative Party mention, warning of a rise in council taxes unless residents acted. The scandal even sparked Labour's lawyers to write to Director of Public Prosecutions, Max Hill, arguing the leaflets to be a "fraudulent device" under the Representation of the People Act. Other mistakes include his claim homeless Londoners should be capable of saving £5,000 for a housing deposit.

Partly as a result of these gaffes, it seems Bailey faces an uphill struggle to garner Londoners' support – a Redfield & Wilton poll published last month found Khan enjoying a 21% lead. 

Even worse for Bailey, his other campaign talking points, of more police officers and increased support for affordable housing, don't seem to have cut through either. This is despite Bailey's own interesting personal history of relying on poorly paid jobs as a young adult to make ends meet. His values, of civic responsibility and hard work, just don't seem to echo despite their potential for widespread resonance. 

Naturally, the volume of candidates running for London mayor means a wide range of issues will undoubtably shape public discussion. Green co-leader, Sian Berry, who came third in 2016, is calling for police to deprioritise policing cannabis and to create a public health approach to drug use. Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate Luisa Porritt is campaigning for empty offices to become homes. While neither looks set to win, their ideas could influence debate.

London faces numerous challenges over the next few years. Even as the Covid-19 vaccine is rolled out, many companies will decide to make home-working permanent. The pandemic has completely altered the ideal of London as a city for pursuing one's dreams. Although it will take more than City Hall to revive London's very spirit, the figurehead at the top is important. While Sadiq Khan looks sets to win re-election handsomely, the Mayor mustn't be complacent about London's huge problems, before and after Covid.

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