Only less than a month to go to the London Mayoral Elections and most observers agree it is still too close to call. While the Labour candidate Ken Livingstone has been leading the pack in January, London Mayor Boris Johnson has closed the gap and many people now believe the election is his to lose.
That is a remarkable situation in a city that is essentially solid Labour territory. Several factors may have contributed to this. There is first the mayor’s popularity. He is well liked by many Londoners and polls indicate that this appeal stretches across the party political divides. He has also consistently articulated a non-partisan vision for London and fought London’s corner with the coalition government. That’s why many people who consider themselves traditional Labour voters have in fact voted for Boris Johnson last time, and may do so again this May.
The popularity of Johnson is matched by Livingstone’s lack of the same. He is widely seen as a divisive candidate and the polls indicate that he fails to command the support of many Labour voters. The reason for this is to be found in his fractious relationship with the Labour party (he left the party to become the Mayor of London fighting against the official Labour candidate), but also in some of his character traits. While Johnson often gives the appearance of a gaff-prone bumbling politician, Livingstone comes across as calculating. His recent remarks about the Jewish community in London echo his previous outbursts in public which many people perceive as close to anti-semitic.
But more importantly, to many ordinary people his actions speak louder than words. While he previously publicly denounced tax avoidance schemes, he ran such a scheme himself since 2009. He also frequently uses derogatory language labelling bankers ‘rich bastards’ but gave his own partner the job of his personal assistant with an annual salary to the tune of £92,000 of annual salary. This salary is more than any Welsh minister would receive, and only fractionally lower than that of Cabinet ministers in Westminster.
These are implausible actions for somebody who keeps praising his own socialist credentials. Given Livingstone’s difficulty with ordinary Londoners, the Mayor’s most recent outburst in a radio show may thus do Johnson no harm. In a way, it is a reminder that Boris does not suffer fools (or slander) gladly and it may count in his favour.
Still, with Livingstone neck to neck with Johnson the outcome is not certain. The support afforded to Livingstone by the Labour leader Ed Miliband is nothing short of a gamble however. And one Miliband may wish he'd never made in the wake of one of the biggest by-election defeats in British history. As Labour was trounced last week in Bradford where its 40 year electoral domination was turned into dust by George Galloway from the Respect Party, Miliband must hope that Livingstone can pull it off. Or perhaps not. Miliband is Jewish and sometimes, standing next to Livingstone, looks like he wishes he was blessed with another candidate. He is not the first nor the only one in his party.
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