Ken Livingstone’s biggest problem is the one in five Labour voters who prefer Borisby Peter Kellner / September 21, 2011 / Leave a comment
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 Boris for mayor. It is this group that will decide the outcome of the contest in May 2012. If they stick with Boris, he will win a second term. But if enough of them return “home,” Ken will take back the crown he lost in 2008.
In principle, next year’s election should be a shoo-in for Ken. 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, Ken has outperformed the Labour party. The graphic (opposite) 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 Ken 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 Ken 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 Boris 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 Boris 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 Boris 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 Ken. The modest “Ken bonus” last time has become a massive “Boris bonus” of 15 points today.
By far Ken’s biggest problem is the one in five Labour voters who prefer Boris. 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 Ken has lost touch with ordinary Londoners, and that Boris is decisive and sticks to what he believes in. The essential tasks of the coming campaign will be for Boris to sustain those verdicts—and for Ken to overturn them.
MORE ON BORIS JOHNSON IN THIS ISSUE:
The Boris dilemma – The mayor of London is poised to win a second term, and many reckon his goal is Number 10. But is it really? And would people take him seriously? asks James Macintyre