Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or Tories


10:45 am - April 13th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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In his closing speech at the London Mayor debate on Wednesday evening, Ken Livingstone said the election in May was a referendum on the Coalition and their programme of cuts for the poorest and rewards for the richest.

The problem is voters don’t believe that, and this has been the key flaw with Ken’s campaign for Mayor.

The polls say something else. Boris Johnson is out-peforming the Conservative vote in London by a full 21 points, while Ken is trailing the Labour vote by three.

If anything, the Mayoral election is decidedly not a referendum on the Labour party, its leader or the Coalition government – it is once again a clash of personalities.

If Ken Livingstone wins in May, it will say very little about Ed Miliband’s leadership; the same applies if he loses (even if the usual suspects will try and spin otherwise).

Ken is trying to win the election on the back of Labour’s popularity in London – a sharp reversal from previous years – and his policies on transport EMA, NHS, and housing reflect that.

This wouldn’t be a problem if personality didn’t play such an outsized role in the outcome, but it does. People need to know if they can trust you. People need to know that you can empathise with their concerns. Personality matters and Ken used it to his advantage in the past.

So it comes as no surprise then that Boris is trying to make the election about ‘trust’, focusing on Ken’s taxes while ignoring his own lies on council tax and knife crime.

Obviously a friendly media helps Boris frame that debate, but Ken hasn’t helped his own cause.

He took far too long in dealing with controversies over his taxes and remarks to a group of Jews, allowing a negative narrative set in. And even yesterday he couldn’t come up with a snappy and convincing answer to the inevitable question about his taxes. The Republican candidate Mitt Romney managed bigger flip-flops over healthcare far more smoothly.

The problem is that Ken keeps hoping Londoners will come back to focusing on policies and vote against the Coalition. But they won’t, so easily. He has to find a way to neutralise the negative perceptions about his personal shortcomings.

As I said earlier this week – one way to do this could be to take on Boris on his own turf and force him to account for his own lies. Relentlessly focus on how Boris has been hypocritical himself. Point out that Boris also railed against tax dodgers and tax avoiders while signing off on them himself.

If Ken can raise doubts about Boris’s record in the minds of Londoners even half as well as his opponent’s team have managed, he could still come back as Mayor. But at this point personality matters more than policies.

This election is not going to be a referendum on the Coalition or Labour – it has to become a referendum on Boris’s competence.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,London Mayor ,Media

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Reader comments


“If anything, the Mayoral election is decidedly not a referendum on the Labour party, its leader or the Coalition government – it is once again a clash of personalities.”

Yes, you would say so, because it is becoming obvious that Livingstone is going to lose. If he was winning, we would be reading a post about how this election is also a referendum about the government coalition.

I’ve been hoping to read something progressive here. To no avail. There is, however, a bit of fun in observing how everyone is ditching Livingstone when realising that all can see what he is. It’s not Ken’s key mistake, it’s Labour’s key mistake.

2. Dick the Prick

Fair enough if he was an Independent but he’s on the Labour ticket – ofcourse it’s party political. Me no comprende!

3. Shatterface

If you want to earn people’s trust, don’t cry crocodile tears while listening to actors eulogising you.

4. Man on Clapham Omnibus

The Mayoral election might not be a referendum on the Labour Party but I think it is becoming potentous of the next general election. Politics is now won on personality. Cameron and Clegg have personalities ,regretably Ed has not.

Why didn’t you just headline this “Managing Expectations”?

personally from what ive read and seen about boris and ken , they strike me as two ruthlessly ambitious men, i think ken was actual a better mayor in terms of policy but he could be very nasty with some of the comments he made about jewish people etc and i dislike intently some of the people who he associated with, boris is not a very good mayor imo but he is utterly ruthless and the mayor is only a stepping stone for him in his ambition to become prime minister. personally i think each elected mayor should be limited to one term, i think power goes to the head and many of there ideas are not about improving the lifes of there voters but about glorifying themselves, i have a question for sunni does he think ed milliband was the wrong choice for labour leader, i think hes improving, but i think if david had been elected the party would be way ahead in the polls.

Haha – I see the damage limitation has already started.

Well, count me in!

Save Ed!!

8. Chaise Guevara

@ 6 mark

“but he could be very nasty with some of the comments he made about jewish people etc ”

What are we talking about here, exactly? I’m honestly unsure whether I’ve missed something, or whether you’re referring to that “Ken disagreed with a Jewish man, therefore he hates Jews” bullcrap from a few years back.

Lynton Crosby’s transparently vile wedge tactics appear to have worked wonders. Well done, wishy washy gullible lefties.

@1

The polls show that Livingstone is significantly under polling his party. That is to say that there are lots of people in London who say that they back Labour as a party but won’t back Livingstone. In contrast, there are also lots of people who say they’ll back Johnson but won’t back the tories.

So therefore this is quite obviously an election where perceptions of Livingstone and Johnson will decide who wins – and not the perceptions of their parties.

You miss the point. Livingstone wants to make it about party because the party is more popular than he is.

@10: “So therefore this is quite obviously an election where perceptions of Livingstone and Johnson will decide who wins – and not the perceptions of their parties.”

No argument about that. But if Livingstone was more popular than his party, the OP would undoubtedly be proclaiming that it is perceptions of parties that will decide who wins.

I know it’s only mildly funny.

Yes, you would say so, because it is becoming obvious that Livingstone is going to lose

You right-wing trolls were fun and engaging at one point. Now just boring and predictable.

14. Bryan Potter

I think it’s a little insulting to the London electorate and indeed to democracy herself to suggest that a London-specific election might be about anything other than London issues.
People are easily comfortable with the idea of voting for their mayor based on the policies (or personalities if that floats their boat) at hand without deciding to make some sort of electoral statement about Tory financial policy or the fecklessness of Ed.

Neil O’Brien has a fascinating and hugely important cover article in this week’s Spectator, about the fact that London is now an entirely different country from the rest of the United Kingdom, and no longer even part of Europe in any economically or culturally meaningful sense.

Quite so. And that is the place that has cast, and looks set to cast again, by far the highest vote received by any single Conservative politician, himself with a profile vastly higher than that of almost any member of the Cabinet. The Conservatives are now the party of the global megarich and of their non-English-speaking servants. No one in Britain votes for them anymore.

Given that you do not need to be British to vote in a local election, how many of Boris Johnson’s votes come from subjects of this Realm? The very fact that he wins would indicate that it cannot be very many.

A Conservative Party victory anywhere this year would indicate some degree of estrangement from the nation at large. A thumping win for a very high-profile position with an enormous electorate will demonstrate conclusively an estrangement which is now complete, a metropolis which is simply no longer in Britain at all.

Didn’t ken blame the fact he lsot in 2008 on the fact alobur were unpopular at the time despite he got 305,000 more votes in 2008 than 2004, yet it didn’t explain why millions of people who hadn’t voted at all came out to vote for Boris weren’t tories, If ken loses this time he’ll still blame it on albour not his own popularity as laobur are 10% ahead oin the polls at the moment/

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 14 Bryan

“I think it’s a little insulting to the London electorate and indeed to democracy herself to suggest that a London-specific election might be about anything other than London issues.”

Whether or not you find it insulting has no bearing on whether or not it’s true. I could declare I was offended by the sun rising in the morning and waking me up, but that wouldn’t stop it happening.

With all those people in London, obviously a certain amount of them are going to vote for silly reasons, or from a position of ignorance. The only question is: how many?

Hmm. Mud sticks, so Ken better start slinging some. It could work.

19. paul barker

After all your problems with militant & other smaller fry you once again allowed an entryist group – socialist action – to hijack the london selection procedure. That & typical left nostalgia is how you lumbered yourself with Ken.
So, yes, kens campaign is a referendum on the labour party among other things, a vote on how much or how little voters feel you have changed.

20. Charlieman

@19. paul barker: “After all your problems with militant & other smaller fry you once again allowed an entryist group – socialist action – to hijack the london selection procedure.”

When Livingstone became London Mayor, he placed his mates in Socialist Action in London jobs. Socialist Action, of course, is not an organising movement or a discussion club within the Labour Party. Membership of Socialist Action is by invitation only.

I find it beyond belief that Livingstone is touchable.

21. paul barker

The latest fall-out from kens crusade seems to be the resignation of labour blogger alex hilton, please dont say he was a closet tory all along.

22. Mr Eugenides

The shift in the tone of coverage on Labour blogs (which, for Boris v Ken purposes, includes LC) over the past two or three weeks has been remarkable. For weeks it was frothing anti-Boris hysteria combined with pretty ruthless suppression of any and all critical coverage of Livingstone’s campaign or character. Now it’s pivoted to post-mortems on “what went wrong” and, as in this case, pre-emptive reassurance that none of this has any wider significance for Labour.

All good sport for those of us who, while not really caring about the London mayoralty, don’t believe Ken Livingstone should be in any position of authority in British politics.

23. Organic cheeseboard

I think this has it about right. Johnson is not really running as a Tory – as Adam bienkov has pointed out his decent policies in London are pretty much all inherited from ken. What livingstone should do – and hopefully will – is run on the general inertia at city hall, bo-jo’s pisspoor response to the riots, and his total lack of ideas.

Though I’m not sure that ed miliband will be too upset at bo-jo gaining in power, in terms of the Tory party. His being more electable than David Cameron is actually good news for labour – the Tories are a lot less united in the commons than they pretend and Cameron hasn’t been forgiven for failing to win a majority.

Not my fight, not a direct concern up here, but looking from very much the outside looking in, I find the London Mayoral race pretty depressing and al the more reason for my Country to saw away at the draglines holding us to Westminster politics.

Boris comes across to me (from this distance, at least) as a bumbling, defuddled toff, who really know what goes on in real life. He does not strike me as a particularly cruel person, Johnston does not appear to be an IDS (again, from this distance), just completely out of touch with normal people. His persona wouldn’t look out of place in a Bertie Wooster or a Poriot episode. I know that sounds a lot worse than I intend it, I get the idea that he is a ‘likable’ sort of chap and people find his naïveté touching. An upper class, political ‘Frank Bruno’ if you will.

Again I have not studied too much London Politics, but I seen have a couple of things that bother me, the politicising of the police scares me to the core, for example.

The thing is that I have watched as Americans have voted for intellectual lightweights with nice hair, nice suits, shinny teeth and absolutely no fucking grasp on reality get voted into office. Bush junior was bad enough, but, FFS, Palin? I used to think that such people could never be elected here. The main Political Parties had too much integrity (at one time) to put up sock puppets for election. We could never see game show hosts and ‘actors’ a la Schwarzenegger get into important positions on entirely opinion poll ratings. Say what you will about previous leaders (PM and opposition) but they had substance. Few, if any had attractive personalities, but you could sense they had something worth discussing. I am no fan of IDS or Hague but they at least had political weight behind them.

Johnston, has nothing like that, he is nothing more than a personality who got elected in a pre election anti Labour tidal wave. He was chosen by the Tories because he was a ‘nice’ and ‘vacuous’ persona and was elected because he was not Labour. Fair enough, things happen, I would have been elected Mayor as a Tory candidate under such circumstances, but if Labour cannot beat Johnston this time, then the Labour Party are seriously fucked and so is British politics. Ken is exactly right, this is a referendum on the cuts.

If Labour cannot muster the anti Tory/Lib Dem vote out then it bodes ill for the Left.

25. paul barker

Just noticed that, in print my earlier comment re alex hilton was ambiguous. It was meant literally, ie please dont claim he was a closet tory, after 21 years in the labour party, that wont wash.

@9

Vile tactics? Such as lying about your opponents tax affairs….and your own.

I notice Kens crocodile tears were a load of load of actors and a former Labour councillor, not ‘ordinary Londoners’. Is there anything he hasn’t lied about yet? Serious question. I notice he’s claiming he will reduce fairs now. Didn’t he lie about wanting to do that twice when he was Mayor?

The prospect of a victorious BoJo using his success as a springboard into tory party leadership ought to concern everyone. I don’t want that tosser as PM just because the Scots have devolved.

You do seem to be changing your tune a little as it becomes clearer that Ken is unlikely to win.

Yeah, well said Sunny. People will vote on personality and Ken screwed up, which is a shame because clearly Ken’s policies are better. However, isn’t it true he has shot himself in the foot again and again – tax, Jews, etc – distracting from his own policy strengths. For the first time he’s also sounding a bit of a dinosaur, and a self-entitled one at that. People don’t like that.

Ken has won it for Boris.

Changing tune? Surely not. From the archives:

“Ken is not only on the Labour NEC, he still retains a lot of popularity within the party and amongst independent voters. Yesterday’s YouGov poll bolstered his case massively as the only Labour candidate who can topple Boris Johnson, and at this stage I don’t see anyone else doing that.

“Expelling Ken Livingstone would raise a storm, split the party further and virtually kill any chance of Labour winning the London Mayoral elections (Ken would most likely run as an independent again). It would be political suicide and we can’t afford that. ”

[6/10/10]

“It would be political suicide and we can’t afford that.”

Oh dear. And if Livingstone loses, what will that have turned out to have been for Labour? A gamble on a man who has been repeatedly disloyal to Labour, who has a nasty line in communalist shit-stirring, and who has feathered this nests of his ‘socialist’ mates. a bit of a lose-lose situation. At least a different Labour candidate could have won or lost with honour.

But no, Livingstone was the man who was going to bring in more votes than loyalty alone to Labour might command – except that inthe event he’s alienated a lot of Labour voters, and almost any faceless but loyal Labour candidate could have won more votes (and possibly won).

Time to take that crystal ball in for a service, Sunny.

32. organic cheeseboard

nthe event he’s alienated a lot of Labour voters

well – this isn’t really true – as in, if he’d alienated anyone, they were alienated last time round. Most of the Labour people whining about him are just annoyed that he got picked again so have gone once again on the all-out attack, for very little reason other than their inherent prejudices against him. just about the only new addition is jonathan freedland, but his reasons are, like those of all the others, that ken needs to say sorry for everything they’re upset about – which just seems wrongheaded, why would ken rush to say sorry to people like david ‘lucy lips’ toube of harry’s place who has reproduced, several times, literally every single smear he could possibly find on livingstone?

any faceless but loyal Labour candidate could have won more votes (and possibly won)

i take it you didn’t pay attention to oona king’s pathetic campaign against ken?

Of course we’ll never know now but my own view is that Oona would have walked it.

34. organic cheeseboard

but this is the problem – oona didn’t even get the basic facts of her proposals right, day to day. the only reason why she ‘would have walked it’ is that she wouldn’t have had quite so many haters in the media like ken does. But she would have been trounced in husting and everywhere else, probably not just by boris.

“Most of the Labour people whining about him are just annoyed that he got picked again so have gone once again on the all-out attack”

He has lost a siginificant slice of the Labour vote. It can’t all be down to Harry’s Place and co.

“i take it you didn’t pay attention to oona king’s pathetic campaign against ken?”

Or alternatively ‘the shortsightedness of the London Labour party rank and file’?

“just about the only new addition is jonathan freedland, but his reasons are, like those of all the others, that ken needs to say sorry for everything they’re upset about”

Again, you seem to be under the misapprenhension that the only people voting in the election are media and blog people. Disaffection with Livingstone is much wider than that. Perhaps all those who’ve abandoned Ken have been briainwashed, or are secretly Tories, or some other excuse that will help you to block out the reality that Livingstone has cocked up badly and alienated hundreds of thousands of Londoners.

What basic proposals are you talking about? Our candidate is telling the public he’s going to cut fares without reducing investment because he found a quarter billion down the back of the sofa that Boris missed. Do you know anyone who believes this? You talk about “haters” as if his negatives didn’t matter. They would be bad enough in any election but in an election carried out under SV they’re fatal.

To be fair to Ken it appears some segments of the Labour party have decided to copy the amazing success of the PUMA movement attributed to Hillary Clinton’s supporters back in 2008…
Perhaps as others have noted elsewhere, the Labour party needs to wake up to the fact that it isn’t big enough anymore that it needs to provide its own opposition. It’s not like conservative bloggers and the party in general doesn’t have axes to grind with Boris, yet somehow they manage to restrain themselves so that they can win elections.

38. Chaise Guevara

@ 30 Jimmy

“Changing tune? Surely not. ”

OMG, Sunny now feels differently than he did over a year ago when the situation was completely different???????!!!!

What a spectacularly specious “point”. When the facts change, reasonable people consider changing their minds.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Ken's key mistake: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/8Tnv8cgD

  2. MayorWatch

    Ken's key mistake: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/8Tnv8cgD

  3. Jason Brickley

    Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/WqNq1mKt

  4. BevR

    Ken's key mistake: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/8Tnv8cgD

  5. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or… http://t.co/w0W3IuyT

  6. sunny hundal

    This is the mistake Ken is making: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx

  7. Martin

    This is the mistake Ken is making: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx

  8. Mark Lowe

    Some good analysis of Ken's strategic errors http://t.co/4MEj7ekb from @sunnyhundal echoes our PR Week discussion

  9. Mark Lowe

    Good analysis of Ken's strategic errors from @sunny_hundal echoes the PR Week podcast http://t.co/4MEj7ekb

  10. Chris Paul

    ?? RT @sunny_hundal This is the mistake Ken is making: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/8kZhh4Rj

  11. Peter Kenyon

    Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or Tories | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Kd0RLnOa via @libcon

  12. Hugh Derry

    This is the mistake Ken is making: the Mayoral election isn't a referendum on Labour or Tories http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx

  13. LRC North West

    Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or Tories | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/Kd0RLnOa via @libcon

  14. sunny hundal

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  15. HazeW

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  16. Sean Lynch

    .@sunny_hundal makes a few good points here http://t.co/uuYuvyus but it's probably a lost cause.

  17. bill bold

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  18. seuss [ sue]

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  19. MerseyMal

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  20. Mark Chivers

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  21. Emma Burnell

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  22. eileen

    'Problem is voters don’t believe its a referendum on Tories, and this is the key flaw with Ken’s campaign' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx < Me, today

  23. Alex Braithwaite

    Ken’s key mistake: the Mayoral election isn’t a referendum on Labour or Tories | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/f3aPgW64 via @libcon

  24. sunny hundal

    My piece yesterday > 'Ken’s key mistake is to assume Mayoral election can be a referendum on Labour or Tories' http://t.co/qCdFP2Vx

  25. EdinburghEye

    Sunny Hundal's key mistake – can't remember the names of London's mayoral candidates @GreenJennyJones http://t.co/51147O9b via @libcon





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