Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

London’s loss

Peter Kellner reviews the first account of the mayoral race

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Boris V. Ken: How Boris Johnson Won
London
Giles Edwards and Jonathan Isaby •
Politico’s, 240pp, £9.99

 

The conventional centre-left view of this year’s mayoral election is simply stated. Ken Livingstone was the victim of an outrageous campaign by the Evening Standard to smear him with allegations that were trivial or unproven or both. As this book demonstrates – by assembling the chronology of the campaign into a brisk and highly readable narrative, rather than by disclosing new information – that view requires a highly selective memory to stand up.

The Evening Standard was not alone in investigating Ken’s behaviour. The New Statesman’s Martin Bright turned him over for Channel Four. Nick Cohen attacked him in the Observer. BBC London unearthed information that Ken would rather have kept hidden. But the most important point is that much of what was written about Ken was true. Alongside his impressive record – the congestion charge, the revival of London’s bus service, the growth in the numbers of police officers, his role in London’s Olympics bid, and his innovate plans to rescue social housing – was a certain carelessness in his choice of friends and colleagues, and a reckless tendency to cause gratuitous offence. The real architect of Ken’s downfall was Ken himself.

Even so, the striking thing about May’s result was not that Ken lost, but that he did not lose more emphatically. The swing to the Conservatives was significantly less in London than in the local elections elsewhere in England, and far less than in Crewe & Nantwich. Had Ken not tarnished his brand by his behaviour, his record might have enabled him to scrape a narrow victory, raising awkward questions about the future direction of the party as a whole.

The Tories won despite Boris’ candidacy and not because of it. His media appearances were hesitant and unconvincing. As the campaign progressed, YouGov surveys found that increasing numbers of Londoners regarded him as too frivolous to be mayor. He was saved, not just by Ken’s follies, but also by the skilful and well-resourced ground campaign run by Lynton Crosby. That, too, holds lessons for Labour as we prepare for the next general election.

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Peter Kellner

is president of YouGov

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