Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor


11:40 am - April 19th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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Despite a relentless assault from the media – the Evening Standard, the Telegraph and LBC radio – Ken Livingstone is only 6 points behind Boris according to the latest polls.

That’s quite an achievement for an already-defeated candidate whose campaign has stumbled from one controversy to another. I suspect the campaign’s relentless focus on voter outreach and the enthusiasm of London Labour activists has also helped.

But it’s still not enough, and in the final fortnight he needs to do something different to win. Here are some suggestions.

Deal with the negatives
A significant enough proportion of London Labour voters dislike Ken and/or are indifferent to Boris to prefer him over Ken.

Ken has to change that, either by finding a way to undermine Boris’s record (there is plenty of ammunition) or neutralise his own negative perceptions.

He keeps giving interviews but without anything new to say. He should at least admit he made some mistakes in the past without going into details. That would at least be a starting point in dealing with negative perceptions that he’s arrogant and unrepentant over mistakes.

The main strategy has reached its limit
Ken has two key claims: this is a referendum on the Coalition’s cuts and this should be about policy not personality. Unfortunately, given the parochial nature of the London Mayoral contest, neither claim resonates enough.

Ken has probably reached the limits of how much mileage he can squeeze out of those claims. He needs to say something new, fresh and attention grabbing to show he still has ideas for the future.

But: stop making more spending committments when your opponent’s main counter-attack is that you’re making promises you can’t keep.

Practice debating
Ken’s performances at debates have been less than helpful, certainly in terms of his style. His reponses on several issues, from his taxes to own record as Mayor, have not been clear and concise enough to convince neutral audiences. A lot of Labour sympathisers who have asked me about the election say they feel unconvinced by his explanations.

In contrast, Boris is always aggressive (while joking about it) in hitting back at any slurs on his record – that alone can convince people who don’t have the facts at hand. At the Evening Standard debate Ken stood there smiling blandly while Boris threw mud at his record, as if it spoke for itself.

Ken was a much better debater in previous years and it feels like he hasn’t practiced any lines or quick responses on issues.

Respond quicker
The campaign have been incredibly slow in responding to controversies.

Even sympathetic bloggers did not get a clear line on his taxes for weeks (we had to get outside experts to comment). There still isn’t an effective and convincing response to the controversy when questioned. He has needs to do much more to neutralise it.

Similarly, when controversy arose over his comments to a group of Jews, Ken denied making them but took over a week to apologise. It doesn’t matter what the truth is: the rule of thumb is to always apologise quickly if a group (that you’ve already had difficulty with in the past) feel insulted.

In the final weeks if a big controversy breaks and Ken’s team doesn’t respond at lightening speed, it is all over.

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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


He should at least admit he made some mistakes in the past without going into details.

Sheer genius!
You don’t think he might be asked for some examples?

Meanwhile (at the lower end of the hypocrisy scale, but still):

http://hurryupharry.org/2012/04/19/kens-private-orgasm/

I think a key mistake Labour’s campaign has made is mistaking the fact that they personally dislike Boris for the idea that Londoners dislike him. So we’ve seen a focus on Boris’ personality (eg the cartoon pickpocket Oyster card holder) when all they’ve ended up doing is highlighting one of his strengths – that he *is* more likable than Ken.

If Labour want to win women voters back, for example, they might want to try to shift the ground away from being horrible about their opponent, which clearly hasn’t worked, and onto some policy.

Despite my misgivings about how it’s all going to be funded (ie I don’t believe it can be) the EMA and the fares cuts are winning policies that also feed into the things they *like* about Ken – that he will do practical things to help the people who are struggling the most.

That’s my view anyway, but I doubt very much we’ll see Ken’s Team have the discipline to stop attacking Boris’ vote winning personality to move the agenda on to better terrain.

If you don’t believe those policies can be funded then you should call them out for what they are: at best ‘fantasies’ and at worst ‘lies’.

A bit less tax avoidance might garner a few more votes, as would a bit less anti-semitism.

You’re right that he needs to fess up and apologise for things that he got wrong before, but one of Ken’s fatal flaws *is* his arrogance – he won’t apologise for anything until forced at virtual gunpoint.

6. Chaise Guevara

@ 4

What antisemitism?

5 Don’t use a private doctor for your annual checkups while habitually mouthing off about NHS privatisation;

6 Don’t piss Alan Sugar off.

Some of these threads on Ken Livingstone sound like a CV for someone applying for a job as a spin doctor.

Or an episode of The Thick of It.

9. David Watts

“Practice debating”

This is Sunny’s advice to a sucessful career politician looking for one last gig before retirement?

Wow.

10. Ken Livingstone

@7 Those rich Jews, eh? They’ll never vote for me.

well said jim phepps

Unless Sunny is inhabiting a different Labour Party to me (which is quite possible, I suppose, me having been a slogging footsoldier for 16 years, him having suggested it might be time for “brown people to vote Tory” as a result of 45 days detention legislation, and then calling for a vote for the Lib Dems in 2010 – how long has he in fact been a member for?), I fail to understand how the Pravda-esque line can be supported:

“the enthusiasm of London Labour activists has also helped”

I can tell him for free that actual really existing local parties are pretty despondent, with many people, even those who are doorstepping for him, horrified by his lines on Jews, his tax problems, his disloyalty. A fifth of Labour voters are refusing point blank on the doorstep, it seems. What land of make-believe is Sunny living in?

I agree with Sunny that this is really not over yet, and I have not found much if any hostility about Ken from labour voters on the doorsteps more that there are a few folk who quite like the way Boris comes across in the media. Also in my experience labour party members on the ground are putting in a pretty good effort, probably not the same level as far a general election but there is plenty of enthusiasm

However time pretty much has run out, the postal votes will be dispatched tomorrow and almost all voters with postal votes return them in the first 48 hours. These are likely to be the key votes so make sure you encourage anyone with a postal vote to send them back.

14. andrew adams

Don’t use a private doctor for your annual checkups while habitually mouthing off about NHS privatisation

Why? There is no contradiction in supporting a public health service available to all and free at the point of use and also the existence of a separate and distinct private sector.

@10

Hello, Lynton.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/azN7l31Z

  2. Chris Horner

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/azN7l31Z

  3. Andrew Spooner

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/azN7l31Z

  4. sunny hundal

    Close, but it's not enough. Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  5. John H

    Bluntly, none of these sounds like the work of a fortnight. RT @libcon: Four ways Ken could turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/3y1TuGna

  6. Captain Awesome

    “@libcon: Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/ApZT4vmp” 1. Be someone else 2. Be less of a dick 3. Do 1+2..

  7. Dave Trew

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/azN7l31Z

  8. leftlinks

    Liberal Conspiracy – Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/WQcOkpXM

  9. bill bold

    Great piece by @sunny_hundal on what Ken Livingstone needs to do if he is to have any chance of winning the mayoralty: http://t.co/nhAk5xlo

  10. Alex Braithwaite

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/ZsDmbg9S via @libcon

  11. Natacha Kennedy

    http://t.co/xgQliknk Good advice for Ken, who is doing well despite an orchestrated media campaign against him.

  12. sunny hundal

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  13. BevR

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  14. Chris Horner

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  15. Paul Nezandonyi

    RT @sunny_hundal: From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/3ra7BrRs

  16. Natacha Kennedy

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  17. t hill

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6

  18. Jason Brickley

    Four ways Ken could still turn it around to be Mayor http://t.co/9MZu5ieI

  19. Martin

    From the morning > Four changes I think @Ken4London needs to make to the campaign to be Mayor http://t.co/6pWcDnT6





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