In each of the London mayoral elections, Ken Livingstone has outpolled Labour. Now the party is way ahead of its candidate in the capital, finds Peter Kellner
Here is a statistic to add colour to Boris Johnson’s cheeks and drain it from Ken Livingstone’s: one in five people who would vote Labour in a general election plan to vote for Johnson for mayor. It is this group that will decide the outcome of the contest in May 2012. If they stick with the mayor, he will win a second term. But if enough of them return ‘home’, Livingstone will take back the crown he lost in 2008.
In principle, next year’s election should be a shoo-in for Livingstone. There are two reasons why. The first is that London is a Labour city. In the 2010 general election, the Conservatives held a seven-point lead across Britain as a whole – but Labour retained a narrow lead in London. Since then, the capital – like the rest of the country – has seen a swing to Labour. YouGov’s latest London survey, in June, put Labour on 51 per cent and the Tories on 32 per cent. Given that the nationwide party battle has been fairly static since then, that is probably a good guide to where the parties stand in London this autumn.
The second reason is that in each of the three mayoral elections since the post was created, Livingstone has outperformed the Labour party. The graphic shows what happened. It compares the two-party division of the list vote for the London assembly – that is, excluding the votes for minor parties – with the final run-off vote for mayor. (There are different ways to calculate the ‘Ken effect’ but each tells the same story.)
In 2000, when Livingstone stood as an independent, he defeated Steve Norris in the final count by 58-42 per cent. The two-party division of the list vote was Labour 51-Conservative 49. So there was a ‘Ken bonus’ of seven points. In 2004, with Labour less popular nationally and many of the party’s voters staying at home, the Tories moved ahead in the list vote. But the ‘Ken bonus’ was worth eight points. This overcame Labour’s unpopularity as a party, so Livingstone was easily re-elected.
By 2008, Labour was even more unpopular; its share of the two-party vote in London fell to 44 per cent. There was still a ‘Ken bonus’, but it fell to just three points—not enough to deprive Johnson of victory by 53-47 per cent.
Today, given Labour’s huge lead in London, any ‘Ken bonus’ should guarantee his victory, and by a record margin. Yet Johnson is ahead. The same YouGov poll that showed Labour 19 points ahead (which translates into a 61-39 advantage on the two-party vote), also put the mayor ahead by a similar margin to his victory three years ago. The capital’s big swing to Labour has not produced any swing back to Livingstone The modest ‘Ken bonus’ last time has become a massive ‘Boris bonus’ of 15 points today.
By far Livingstone’s biggest problem is the one in five Labour voters who prefer Johnson. The party’s real problem is not so much ‘blue Labour’ as ‘Boris Labour’. By burrowing into the detail of YouGov’s data, we can see why so many Labour supporters intend to vote for a Tory mayor. They tend to think that Livingstone has lost touch with ordinary Londoners, and that Johnson is decisive and sticks to what he believes in. The essential tasks of the coming campaign will be for Johnson to sustain those verdicts – and for Livingstone to overturn them.
Peter Kellner is president of YouGov. This article originally appeared in Prospect magazine
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