London Mayoral Election Look Ahead
BORIS AND KEN BATTLE IT OUT
Thursday 3rd May will see the third election of the UK’s most powerful directly elected politician, the Mayor of London, as other major cities across the UK hold ballots to decide whether or not to adopt their own elected mayoral model. This election is unique in British politics – a great mix of character, policy and politics.
With the polls on a knife edge, the next ten weeks will see a re-run of the 2008 election as big beasts Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson squeeze out Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick to fight the most high profile political contest since the General Election. The prize is not only to represent Londoners at City Hall but also at the Olympic Games in the summer.
Protecting the City
Over the coming four years, whoever wins will face numerous challenges; a growing London population, rising unemployment and the capital’s biggest industry – financial services – under attack. Promoting London as a global business centre in the current economic turmoil will be a key priority.
Ken Livingstone recently joked, ‘hang a banker a week until the others improve’ but the truth is that he was a pragmatic Mayor who supported the City. Though now a less popular cause, neither Boris nor Ken will want to kill the capital’s golden goose.
Records under scrutiny
The election is likely to become increasingly dirty. Boris’s team accuse Ken of having run a regime of cronies, dishing out money to his favourite client groups. Ken has retorted that Boris hasn’t done what he promised – abandoning the chairmanship of the police authority after only a year, failing to deliver new housing and putting up fares.
In the first hustings of the campaign, organised by Age UK on 21st February, the three candidates tried to win over electorally critical older voters with various inducements. Reports suggest the audience warmed to Ken, who promised free bike hire for the over 60s, while Boris pledged to keep the age of eligibility for the Freedom Pass to 60. Ken is certainly making the running on policy at this stage, but arguably he has set out his flagship ‘Fare Deal’ policy too early in the campaign.
Polls within a margin of error
Labour has been as much as nine points ahead in polls in London, but Livingstone is neck and neck with Johnson in all of the recent Mayoral polls. Labour’s task is to squeeze Boris’s Labour supporters – and they are making progress. Support for Boris amoung Labour supporters is down from one fifth to 11% in the most recent poll.
The result is expected to be close, and may once again come down to second preference votes. In 2008, the Labour Government was in the doldrums which was all helpful for Boris. This election will come shortly after a difficult Budget, just as the cuts are starting to bite. Boris will run as Boris, not as the Government candidate, but his ability to prevent voters using the election to pass judgment on the Coalition will be limited.
As Labour showed in the 2010 general election, when they held on to a lot of seats they should have lost, the Party’s machine in the capital is formidable. Ken will fight to turn out the inner city Labour voters and has taken note of Boris’s successful doughnut strategy in 2008 of targeting the outer London boroughs. Boris remains the favourite with the bookies but there is all to play for.
Boris Johnson has carved out a niche as something of an anti-politician but has been a relatively safe pair of hands in office. A school and university contemporary of David Cameron, Boris is known to harbour higher ambitions. His doughnut strategy of targeting Outer London won him the election in 2008 but with Ken now well versed in this tactic he will face a tough race.
Ken Livingstone has sought to establish himself as ‘Mr London’. Elected Mayor in 2000 as an Independent when his style was deemed incompatible with Blair’s New Labour revolution, such was ‘Red’ Ken’s personal draw he was brought back into the Labour fold for his second term. Ken’s re-nomination was controversial amongst many Labour supporters who felt it was time for a new generation. However, he remains the consummate politician and will give Boris a run for his money.
Brian Paddick rose to the position of Deputy Assistant Commissioner. He came a disappointing third last time round with 9.8 per cent of first preference votes and will hope that the focus on crime in the coming election will help his position in the race. Since the 2008 election Paddick has sought to raise profile, appearing on ITV’s I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!
FOCUS ON: THE POLICIES
This election, so far, has focused on just two policy areas: crime and transport and it is the latter which has consumed most media and voter attention. In a city of over 7.5 million people the challenge of simply getting around has a major impact on quality of life and the cost of living.
Ken’s best hope of winning the election relies on his ‘Fare Deal’ pledge to cut fares on the tubes and buses by seven per cent, using Transport for London’s operating surplus, claimed by Boris to be earmarked for vital infrastructure investment. Boris was planning a seven per cent rise (RPI+2%) to fund further improvements to service. Boris’s instincts may be right on this one. A February poll revealed that Ken’s promise to cut fares was approved by 68 per cent of Londoners but that fewer than half the voters, 46 per cent, think he would fulfil the promise.
Boris and Ken have both been pushing hard for infrastructure spending in London and got it in the form of Crossrail, which Ken has pledged to extend from Wimbledon to Epping via Chelsea. Now Boris is calling for aviation expansion in the South East. ‘Boris Island’ is a controversial proposal but crucially would fall outside the GLA electorate area, so local backlash would have a limited impact on the Mayoral vote. Boris Island would effectively moth-ball Heathrow, removing the noise aggravation of aviation from a large swathe of voters in West London (along with over 100,000 jobs). However few in the industry and Westminster see it as a realistic option in the foreseeable future.
In a nod to concerns about the cost of living, Boris has pledged to cut the Mayoral Council Tax precept by 1% this year and has identified additional efficiency savings which could result in a 10% cut in the precept in forthcoming years. This tax cut has been carefully chosen, as the precept increased every year under Ken Livingstone.