By Becky Gwilliam
This has not been an auspicious mayoral campaign for London. Dominated by bust-ups over tax returns and underscored by a lack of interest from Tory and Labour central parties, it’s been one to forget.
But it would be wrong to think that the mayoralty doesn’t matter. In politics, and to over 7.5m residents, it does.
Signs from the postal votes are that Boris will hold on to City Hall. If correct, this will be a major relief for Mr Cameron. Losing the mayoralty would add further to the sense of drift threatening to engulf both the party and the Government.
Johnson is a recognisable and charismatic figure. The Barclays “Boris” Bike scheme, a freeze on the Mayoral share of council tax and a shored up Crossrail all count among his successes. He may sometimes make unhelpful comments. But he can also say and do popular, but un-Prime Ministerial things. Expletive laden lift bust-ups included.
For Labour, a Ken victory would be another stick to bash Cameron with. In the short-term a nice bit of niggle, and in the longer term symbolic “ownership” of the capital. Even if a decent swathe of party members can’t bring themselves to mark the box by Livingstone’s name.
For those living in the capital, transport, policing, housing and jobs are the big ticket items. Anyone who experiences the Tube on a daily basis will recognise the need for investment. Ever-higher fares remain deeply unpopular but whether voters believe Ken’s claim of “operating surpluses” available to fund the work remains to be seen.
The London riots brought policing issues into sharp focus. Livingstone has tried to highlight cuts to police numbers. Again whether people will place the blame for the chaos of last summer with Boris is uncertain.
Unsurprisingly, neither seems to have a hugely convincing answer on growth and jobs.
On housing, rising rents and attempts to get on the property ladder affect most residents. But will they be aware of Ken’s suggestion for a London Living Rent? A reported twelve point poll lead for Boris Johnson says probably not.
And what about the other candidates? Is it unfair to see this as a two-horse race? In short, no. Two vast personalities and a broken Lib Dem vote mean Brian Paddick’s second bid for office looks as doomed as his first. A late flurry of excitement around independent Siobhan Benita is unlikely to be significant.
The Assembly vote may be more interesting. Polls have shown a solid lead for Labour. However, people should keep a watchful eye on which smaller parties get over the 5% threshold to win list representation (the BNP and the Greens did so last time) and if the Conservatives get enough seats to pass a Budget should Boris win.
The weather may play a key factor. Given its omnipresence in the news cycle and water cooler chat it seems appropriate. Conventional wisdom goes that turnout in the doughnut (outer London) is higher than the Labour-dominated inner boroughs when it rains. If true, that may be more than enough to return Johnson to City Hall and provide David Cameron with a chink of light on what may be a grey electoral day elsewhere.
Rebecca Gwilliam is a Senior Account Manager in Portland’s Public Affairs team. She advises clients including Nexen, the Scouts and AB-InBev.