London mayoral race over the last few weeks – please click here – and today are joined by two guests to discuss the politics of the campaign:
We have looked in detail at all the major policies of all the candidates in the 2012
• Andrew Gimson, author of Boris: The Rise of Boris Johnson.
• Sonia Purnell, author of Just Boris: A Tale of Blond Ambition.
Unfortunately Andrew Hosken, who wrote Ken: The Ups and Downs of Ken Livingstone, has had to pull out.
The biographers will be here from 1-2pm. Post your questions about the race so far for them below.
Meanwhile, I’ve made this short animated video explaining the campaign so far.
The 2012 London mayoral election campaign has been a frustrating one. Try as they might, neither of the main candidates, nor the media, seem to have been able to decisively resolve the two most bitterly-contested policy disputes: namely whether or not Ken Livingstone could afford to cut transport fares by 7%, as he promises, and whether Boris Johnson has cut or increased police numbers.
Ken Livingstone cries while watching his party political broadcast. Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images
Otherwise the campaign has largely focused on Livingstone’s personal flaws: the alleged hypocrisy of his decision to channel his media earnings through a company and thus pay corporation tax, which is lower than income tax, while criticising those engaged in tax avoidance; offensive remarks he made about Jewish voters; and whether his tears at his party political broadcast were a sign of his deep concern for Londoners or sadness at what may be the final act of a long political career.
Johnson can usually be relied upon to say a few offensive things too. In his time he has made regrettable remarks about various groups, including, in no particular order, the people of Liverpool, the people of Portsmouth, the people of Ireland, the people of Papua New Guinea, gay people, Muslims, and black people.
But the Boris running for election this year has been quiet and sensible to the point of dull, and has ruffled few feathers – unless you count calling Ken a “fucking liar” three times in a lift after a bad-tempered debate about their tax arrangements. Equally, we have seen little of the mayor’s genuine wit and enthusiastic intellectualism; there has been no sign of the Boris who even managed to make Gordon Brown smile with a brilliantly eccentric speech about “wiff waff” (table tennis) during the Olympic handover rally from Beijing to London in 2008.
Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson during the radio interview that led to Johnson calling his rival a ‘fucking liar’. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA
If there is hope for Ken, it lies in the polls. Livingstone can probably take little credit for a last-minute turnaround in his YouGov poll rating which, according to today’s poll, has brought him within four points of Johnson, 52-48, after weeks of trailing behind the incumbent mayor. The government’s well-publicised woes since the budget have seen Labour nationally soar to leads of up to 13 points over the Tories – and in London Ed Miliband’s party has pulled 16 points ahead of David Cameron’s. This election Johnson has proved more popular than his party, and Livingstone less popular (a new and unwelcome experience for him) – but even so, Labour now seems to be managing to drag Ken upwards while the Tories drag Boris down.
(Rival pollsters ComRos disagree, and produced a survey last Thursday that gave Johnson a healthy eight-point lead.)
Johnson has run London in a more or less centrist fashion for the last four years, meaning there has been much less enthusiasm on the left for the kind of passionate anti-Boris campaign we saw in 2008.
But last week, perhaps in an attempt to shore up his base, he gave a surprisingly rightwing interview to the Sunday Times in which he declined to back gay marriage and launched a strong attack on immigration, saying:
The [London] population is expanding massively. That is partly a function of immigration, legal or illegal. If you ask me as mayor of London, do I want to see tough immigration controls, the answer is yes … I want a much tighter grip on immigration.
And in yesterday’s Sunday Telegraph, his deputy, Kit Malthouse, reiterated the mayor’s support for George Osborne’s decision to cut the 50p rate of tax.
Such forthright statements obviously risk alienating other sections of his support, but perhaps he has written off some of those already. He was the only candidate not to agree to do an online QA with Guardian readers on this blog.
Brian Paddick with Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader – did the party label damage his chances? Photograph: Lewis Whyld/PA
Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has found it hard to make an impact. When he appeared on this blog, some (sympathetic) readers suggested he may have made better progress if he had run an independent, warning that the Lib Dem label would drag him down. Paddick has attempted to distance himself from the coalition, telling the Guardian that he found his party’s decision to join the Tories in government “heartbreaking”, and emphasising that he is standing on a Lib Dem, rather than coalition, ticket. But that approach seems to assume that voters only dislike the Conservative half of the coalition – that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Paddick has had an interesting life and a career as a serial rebel on important and dramatic issues in the police, from cannabis to phone-hacking to the death of Jean Charles de Menezes. On paper he is a great candidate, but somehow he is never able to communicate that; he comes across both on TV and in real life as stiff and wooden – like a senior policeman, in fact – and this lack of charisma is especially problematic given that his opponents have taken personalised politics to new levels. In today’s YouGov poll, Paddick was on 6%, up from 4% the day the campaign officially started; in last week’s ComRes survey he had been pushed into fourth place, with 5%.
Jenny Jones on her barge. Photograph: Graeme Robertson for the Guardian
Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, went to considerable lengths to prove her party was focused on more than the environment, but her biggest impact on the campaign came when she forced Johnson and Livingstone to release their tax returns, and her poll numbers remain tiny according to YouGov – 3% in today’s poll, up from 1% at the beginning of the campaign. ComRes put her in third place in its poll last Thursday, but she still only scored 6%.
Independent Siobhan Benita, despite her protests to the contrary, received acres of rapturous press coverage – but saw no comparable surge in interest from the public. She was at 3% in today’s YouGov poll (she was not mentioned by YouGov in their first poll) and scored the same in ComRes’s survey. But Benita has successfully raised her profile and I have already heard her mooted as Labour’s candidate for 2016.
Ukip’s Lawrence Webb was also on 3% in last week’s YouGov poll, up from 1% at the start of the campaign, and on 2% according to ComRes, while the BNP’s Carlos Cortiglia had to make do with 1%, according to ComRes.
This has been the Boris and Ken show from start to finish.
Post your questions on the politics of the campaign for Boris and Ken biographers Andrew Gimson and Sonia Purnell below. They will be here from 1-2pm to debate them with you.
Tony Travers of the LSE points out in today’s London Evening Standard, the latest poll result “suits both teams because each candidate needs to get their vote out”.
Ken Livingstone‘s team has put out a statement which seems to back up Travers’s analysis. A spokesperson for Livingstone said:
The election is neck and neck and going all the way to the final vote cast on Thursday. With soaring fares, police cuts and double-dip recession Londoners have the opportunity this week to ensure the Tories don’t get away it. The Tory mayor has stood by and made things worse in difficult times, and Londoners will be better off with a Labour mayor.
Livingstone’s team has also put out a new poster attempting to tie Boris Johnson to the Tory party, David Cameron, George Osborne and the recession – all of which are more unpopular than the mayor. “The Tories are on a different planet,” it reads.
Jenny Jones. Photograph: Johnny Green/PA
Jenny Jones and independent Siobhan Benita have just been in the office speaking to our morning meeting.
Jones said Boris Johnson had a “lack of ideology … You might as well ask what the cat thinks.” She added: “He doesn’t like taking decisions. Too many people under him are taking decisions.”
Why was Johnson so popular? “I have no idea,” said Jones. “He’s not popular with me. I do laugh at his jokes though; that’s the awful thing. He’s engaging.”
She was much more positive about Ken Livingstone, and has asked her supporters to give him their second preference votes (the London voting system is explained here).
She said: “He does sort of understand climate change”, although his “old-style socialism” often trumped green concerns.
“In the eight years I watched Ken and we spoke he never promised anything he didn’t deliver. I do trust Ken.”
She said he could be honest – “painfully honest” sometimes. “He said that the reason I was good on TV was that I looked like everybody’s mother. Apparently that’s true.” (She may have been referring to the fact that she is the mother of a senior editor at the Guardian.)
On Ken’s disputed 7% fare cut policy, she said: “If Ken says it, it can be done.” Johnson and the Tories “think that’s OK to make life more expensive for the average Londoner. I don’t understand it. For me it’s a no-brainer that fares have to go down.”
Boris had come to her to say that they had to talk after the election, implying he would offer her a job, but she said she would refuse because she did not trust him.
She acknowledged that she wouldn’t win on Thursday and was pushing for people to vote for Green candidates on the London assembly, pointing out that from this year the assembly would have the power to block the mayor’s budget – potentially making it a much more substantial body.
Siobhan Benita. Photograph: Jason Alden/Rex Features
Siobhan Benita said she was standing because she believed this “should be an independent role”. “The mayor role is the one opportunity the voters get to vote for an individual and not have party politics come into play.”
She defended her controversial decision to back the building of a third runway at Heathrow. “I’m doing that because I’m not party political. The other candidates are playing politics with something that is hugely important.”
She said it was a myth that people in nearby Hounslow and Hillingdon opposed the runway. In fact it had been blocked because Labour and the Tories were fighting for votes in Twickenham and Richmond, where the idea of the runway was unpopular, she claimed. She said that a third runway would not damage Britain’s efforts to meet its cap on carbon emissions.
Of Livingstone and Johnson, she said: “They are divisive. They are deliberately playing groups off each other … I genuinely believe they are very similar. They are similar in the way they play politics.”
She said she had always voted Labour in the past, although she voted Lib Dem in the last local elections. “In the general election I honestly don’t know which way I’ll vote … The government and opposition are in meltdown, in identity crisis. I hope that changes. I can see my daughters getting totally turned off by politics – and I don’t blame them.” She said there were no positive role models in national politics.
Would she vote for Labour for the London assembly? “I honestly don’t know yet.”
She said she would “possibly” run as an MP after the election, but neither Labour nor the Tories had approached her.
LEWIS have built an infographic monitoring social media conversations relating to the London mayoral elections. View it here.
Brian Paddick’s team has just put out a statement calling for Labour voters disillusioned with Ken Livingstone to vote for the Lib Dem instead. The statement said it had been “a desperate and divisive campaign by the Labour candidate, in which he made crude comments about homosexuality and Jews, has been utterly hypocritical over his personal tax affairs and promised an undeliverable fares cut”. Paddick is quoted as saying:
I understand why many Labour supporters are struggling with the thought of backing Ken Livingstone and his divisive and opportunistic politics. My message to you is: if you want a positive alternative to Boris Johnson, if you want real change, vote for me.
Andrew Gimson and Sonia Purnell are online now and answering your questions below the line.
Gimson is asked how Boris Johnson would look on the world stage opening the Olympics, and whether this consideration should be part of voters’ decision-making process.
I suspect Boris will buy a new suit and look astonishingly well turned out. He might even have his hair cut so short that it cannot blow about in the wind. This would be a cruel blow to all those who enjoy criticising him for looking scruffy. But his wiff-waff speech in Beijing in 2008 was so funny that it would make sense for him to do something completely different this time. Step forward Boris the world statesman.
If you want this to be part of the voting decision, why not? The mayor’s representative function is in many ways the most important one he has.
Ken Livingstone has seized on an anti-Boris tweet from the leader of the Richmond Liberal Democrats, Cllr Stephen Knight, to ask Lib Dem voters not to give their second preference votes to Boris Johnson. Livingstone said:
Many Liberal Democrat voters will have their own doubts about endorsing the Conservative party at this time. Such a senior London Liberal Democrat saying his vote will not go to the Tories, and urging ‘sack Boris’, sends a clear signal to Lib Dems all over the capital. My message to Liberal Democrat supporters is don’t vote for the only candidate, the Conservative, who will raise your fares.
One for Sonia Purnell: I read your piece on why women were favouring Johnson, and ended it none the wiser. Is it policy, personality, lazy media coverage, or something else?
Sonia Purnell responds:
Hi. On Pienaar on Politics on 5 Live last night, a woman voter described how Boris had given her ‘that look’ whilst out campaigning and on the basis of that she was going to support him. I have seen the effect of ‘that look’ time and time again and marvel at it. I do also think that his apparent optimism is also infectious. I understand the reluctance to attribute this female support to the supposed love of a ‘loveable cad’ and yet the evidence suggests that there is something in it. I would add that a certain sort of straight man is just as susceptible to Boris’s charms as women. A lot of men hero-worship Boris, only wishing they could emulate his free-wheeling life.
criticised on this blog for giving this election more prominence than it deserves, considering not everyone in the UK lives in London.
We are often
Sonia Purnell says the mayoral election does affect the rest of the country:
If Boris wins again, he will be an electoral titan in the Conservative party. MPs are already talking him up as their next leader because he is a winner. So a victory in London would almost certainly shorten the odds of him becoming the next PM.
I think people a) re tiring of Boris a little more slowly than they are becoming heartily sick of the tories (Cameron, Osborne Co) overall. What puts them off then voting for Labour is that – rightly or wrongly – they see Ken as the same old same old. Perhaps we should expect either a lower turnout or the minor parties (apart from the LibDooms) picking up more votes than expected?
Andrew Gimson responds:
This is a very sophisticated analysis. I suppose we tire of all politicians, or at least need a break from them. Churchill in 1945, Thatcher in 1990, Blair in 2007 …
With Boris, I think that while some people are just tiring more slowly of him, others actually like him because he seems to them to be a more genuine figure than Cameron and Osborne. So Boris stood up for bankers, and called for a cut in the top rate of tax, at a time when C O thought this was not something you could say in front of the voters. It is not that people necessarily agree with Boris about the bankers: but he gets marks for courage and honesty by defending them: a thought which may even have occurred to him before he did so.
Ken does, as you say, have a problem with being seen as “the same old same old”: especially, I would guess, on the left, where he has made so many enemies over the years. I seem to remember voting for Ken in order to annoy Blair. Voting for Ken could still annoy a lot of people this time, but not in such a joyous way as when it was a way of having a crack at the insufferably self-righteous New Labour establishment.
But I don’t expect a lower turnout: I think voters think this battle matters, and that the minor parties are likely to get badly squeezed.
Andrew Gimson responds to the question of whether those outside London should care about this race:
I’ve some sympathy with your irritation. But if I were a national newspaper editor, I would still give the Ken-Boris fight a fair bit of prominence. After Galloway won in Bradford, he got, and is still getting, a lot of coverage. He deserved that, in my opinion, because his victory was a dreadful defeat for Labour; and because Galloway himself is one of the great orators and provocateurs of our time.
Similar arguments can be applied to London. What happens here will be seen as a defeat for either Labour or the Tories. And Ken and Boris are interesting figures in their own right: almost as difficult as Galloway to categorise, and certainly not just the almost indistinguishable career politicians who fill most of the places in the cabinet and shadow cabinet. In Boris’s case, he is also a potential successor to David Cameron. So what happens in London matters beyond London, just as what happened in Bradford mattered far beyond Bradford.
My colleague Dave Hill has just tweeted this:
My colleague Peter Walker is at a mayoral hustings on cycling and will be sending more later. For now he sends this picture of Ken and Boris throwing their arms around each other:
Some context regarding Boris’s latest outburst of bad language from Dave Hill:
Many thanks to Sonia Purnell and Andrew Gimson for taking part in today’s QA – and thanks to you for all your questions.
Peter Walker is at a mayoral hustings on cycling. All the candidates have arrived, and the room is completely packed, Peter reports. He says that as a long-time London cyclist he would never have predicted even a few years ago that he would see a room full of politicians all competing for the cycling vote. “Yes, like motorists have managed to do for decades, to their endless benefit, cyclists might soon be a proper, vocal lobby.”
The London mayoral cycle hustings have been organised by Sustrans, the cycling and green travel pressure group, and the Times, which has over recent months been running a high-profile and influential campaign called Cycle Safe. It’s a mark of the potential electoral impact of the estimated half-million people who ride a bike in London daily that the four major candidates – Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones – as well as the independent, Siobhan Benita – will all attend. All five have signed up to both the Times’s campaign and the London Cycling Campaign’s “Love London, Go Dutch” policy, which calls for more segregated cycle lanes to encourage greater cycling numbers.
It’ll be interesting to see how the candidates outline their policies, not least Johnson, the only one of the five to be specifically criticised by co-sponsor Sustrans. For all his much-worked image as a regular cyclist, Johnson’s apparent focus on vehicle traffic flow and his reluctance over a possible 20mph limit on urban roads argues something different. Sustrans praises all the others to differing degrees, although it did irritate Jones’s camp by labelling her transport plans a bit vague.
It’s worth noting the very real manifestation of cycle lobby power in London this weekend – an estimated 10,000 cyclists braving the rain on Saturday to join a London Cycling Campaign-organised Big Ride, calling for better cycling infrastructure. These people are all potential voters …
A pair of polls today have reiterated that. One for the Times found that around a third of people who had heard of the paper’s Cities fit for Cycling campaign would switch their vote according to bike-based policies. A separate poll for British Cycling found that more than half of London’s cyclists think better bike lanes should be a mayor’s main transport priority.
Peter is also tweeting @peterwalker99 and will write a longer piece once it’s over on the Bike blog.
Peter Walker sends more from the cycling hustings:
The five candidates have had their initial say, and Johnson has already been heckled from the floor for claiming that cycling in London is now safer an it was when he took office. On his priorities he lists more of the same – more cycle superhighways and large “Trixi” mirrors at junction. For good measure he refers to the audience as “fellow cyclists”.
Livingstone, as ever, is the detail-driven technocrat, promising that on day one he would order Transport for London to make pedestrian and cycle safety their main priority, and give cyclists a head start at traffic lights to turn left. He would make Jenny Jones his cycling tsar, he says.
Paddick agrees on TfL, also saying he would push for compulsory motion sensors on long vehicles to protect cyclists. Jones talks of he “dream” of no road deaths and says she’d like to have 6.5% of all journeys in London taken by bike.
Siobhan Benita is a bit more vague but pledges a “complete relentless focus” on cycling.
On follow-up questions, Johnson is heckled again, twice. This is quite a bear pit for him. For the UK’s most famously cycling politician he’s not very popular with his pedalling peers.
Coral bookmakers say they have seen “a surge of bets for Boris Johnson” to win the mayoral race and have cut his price to 1-6 (from 1-4). Ken Livingstone is now at 7-2 (from 11-4).
“We’re seeing only Boris money now,” said Coral spokesman Gary Burton.
The odds from William Hill are 1/5 for Boris Johnson and 10/3 for Ken Livingstone. Here’s a mixed metaphor from spokesman Rupert Adams:
The odds suggest that the London election is a straight fight between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, but Boris is on his bike, while Ken is on foot.
So Ken will probably win the fight, because Boris will presumably be hampered by the fact that he’s sitting on a bike?
Peter Walker sends more from the mayoral cycling hustings:
To little surprise, much of the debate has ended up being Johnson and Livingstone bickering, mainly over the latter’s plans to cut public transport fares and how this would equate with more transport spending. At one point the moderator, Times editor James Harding, asks them to stick to the questions from the floor. “We’ll take it to the lift,” Livingstone quips, referring to a bust up earlier in the campaign at a radio station.
The main pair’s contrasting styles in answering questions is interesting – Johnson is fluent but says little of detail. Livingstone quotes statistics and clearly knows his brief inside out. Livingstone keeps on mentioning Jones as his chosen cycling supreme. The Green candidate smiles ruefully.
About half a dozen questions in we’ve learned little new, though, particularly in policy terms. Lots of talk, few concrete promises – perhaps a reflection of the limited powers of the mayor’s office.
the full story on Boris Johnson swearing again, from my colleagues Hélène Mulholland and Dave Hill.
Boris Johnson accused a BBC journalist of talking “fucking bollocks” after being challenged over his attempts to secure commercial deals with News International while the Metropolitan police were investigating the company over phone hacking.
Johnson’s attack, filmed by the BBC and broadcast on the Monday lunchtime bulletin, comes less than a month after the Conservative candidate came under fire for calling his Labour rival Ken Livingstone a “fucking liar”, in a lift after a row over their respective tax arrangements …
Johnson hit out when placed under scrutiny over his efforts to lobby News International at such a sensitive time as he defended his decision to lobby private sector contributions for the “benefit of London”.
Tim Donovan, the BBC London political editor, has been investigating the fact that Johnson – who had responsibility for chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority at a time the force was looking to News International – was trying to get NI to sponsor the cable car in east London and a school academy; no deal was eventually done.
Johnson told the BBC: “I don’t know of any discussions going on about that but what I can tell you is that I think it’s right to work with the private sector to get contributions that will be for the benefit of London.
“I’m very proud that over the last four years we’ve got more than £100m in sponsorship that I’ve raised for this city: £50m for the bikes, £36m for the cable car.
“You’ve got to get this on the air! Come on, this is the most important thing. Stuff Donovan and his fucking bollocks.”
Peter Walker, who is at a mayoral cycling hustings:
An update from
Some more questions, one about whether the candidates would put a cyclist on the board of Transport for London. Johnson fudges it, saying that he chairs the board and cycles every day. That’ll be a no, then.
Livingstone answers a question about Addison Lee, the minicab firm which wants to use London’s bus lanes. Addison Lee represent “everything that’s unattractive about the taxi trade”, he says, pledging to do everything he can to stop minicabs using bus lanes.
Johnson is then asked about what is, for bike lobby groups, a major bugbear about his cycling policy – his emphasis on smoothing motorised traffic flow, as a higher priority than pedestrian and cycle safety. He muddles the answer, waffling about cyclists not being “morally superior” to other road users, and how we cannot “pastoralise” our roads.
This irritates Paddick, saying he’s “very angry” at this attitude.
Sounds like things are not going that well for Boris Johnson at the transport hustings.
Peter Walker sends details of the closing remarks from the cycling hustings:
Jenny Jones, who has had to almost try the least here given her party’s track record on cycling and her endearingly open admission that she is extremely unlikely to become mayor, promises that Greens on the London assembly will work tirelessly for cyclists. Brian Paddick, who’s done very well today, pledges to make London “a more civilised place” where cyclists are as safe as car users.
Ken Livingstone agrees with both, and makes the point that with most of London’s transport infrastructure full to capacity we need a mayor to plan 10 or 20 years ahead, not just till the next election.
Boris Johnson lets loose one of his extemporised, chat show-style verbal riffs and comes badly unstuck. Stressing his cyclist credentials he notes that he is not a “stereotypical cyclist … I’m not whippet-thin, brown legs, dreadlocks, dressed in Lycra, jumping lights … ”
As the boos rise he adds, quickly, ” … and nor are you,” but it’s too late. “I’d quit now,” Paddick advises as the mayor struggles on.
Instant verdicts? Four out of five for Paddick and Benita, who held her own in what is her only hustings on equal terms with the big four. A solid 3.5 for Livingstone and Jones – good on the issues but a bit less passion than you might expect. Johnson limps in with 1.5. He misjudged the audience, tried to be flippant at the wrong moments and seemed very light on detailed knowledge.
I’m back to the office on a bike journey which takes in a series of terrifying junctions, not least Parliament Square and the King’s Cross one-way system. Whoever wins, there’s a lot of work to be done.
That’s it from the London mayoral election live blog today. Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the candidates’ policies on the Olympics and their legacy. Thanks again to our guests and thanks for all your comments.