The latest Yougov poll for London shows that Ken Livingstone has caught up and overtaken Tory Boris Johnson in the race for Mayor.
It has always seemed to me the case that the polls would turn in Ken’s favour as the campaign got under way. Johnson has had 3 years of photo-opportunities, uncritical media coverage (witness Paxman’s pathetic so-called ‘interviews’) and orchestrated rows to distance himself from Cameron, and has developed an unparalleled degree of recognition amongst the public. But his ability to avoid real debate on policy has left him largely unchallenged.
The latest poll only gives Johnson a lead over Ken on the grounds of charisma, where the Tory mayor’s figures have only ever been matched by Basil Brush, another mischievous character with a posh accent and manner. Indeed you could almost imagine Boris adopting ‘Ha Ha Ha, Boom! Boom!’ as his catchphrase. As someone remarked to me recently, Dame Edna Everage is so popular in her (?) home town of Melbourne that they named a street after her, but the people of the city would never contemplate voting her in as mayor, because charisma alone is not enough. Ken is well ahead on ‘who has achieved more as Mayor’, being in touch with ordinary Londoners, being decisive, strong and good in a crisis, which seem to matter more.
The outcome of this election will depend on the differential turnout of the Parties’ supporters. Affordable housing is one of the top five issues identified by Londoners, alongside crime, transport, jobs and the cost of living, and will have a great bearing on the outcome. Many more of Ken’s supporters name affordable housing as a key issue than Johnson’s and housing seems to be a key factor in achieving the turnout that is required.
The strong headway that Ken has made comes after two big campaign policy pronouncements, on fares and on housing. London being a city of commuters, fares is likely to have had a much bigger impact. But Ken’s housing policies – calling for more regulation of the private rented sector, campaigning for a London Living Rent, and floating the idea of a new not-for-profit agency to link landlords and tenants – have attracted a lot of attention and have provoked debate. As we get nearer the election, and the Tory Mayor’s housing failures become ever more apparent, it is reasonable to expect that housing will have more influence over Londoners’ voting intentions and boost Labour turnout.
As the most high profile election this year, the race to be London Mayor will have a crucial bearing on the fortunes of Ed Miliband and David Cameron. Miliband, Ed Balls and Livingstone show every sign of working well together, and progressives in London should be hugely motivated by the possibility of dumping Johnson. Just close your eyes and think it’s Basil Brush.