Monday, 30 January 2012

Will the £25 gas-guzzler charge ruin Ken Livingstone's chances?

Ken Livingstone's supporters have blamed lots of people for his defeat in 2008.

The Evening Standard, Gordon Brown and outer Londoners have all received their share, but there's one bigger issue that I think they've overlooked.

I've always thought that the £25 gas-guzzler charge did more to damage his chances last time than any other policy.

In theory the charge was a good idea, and would only have affected a relatively small number of drivers.

But I suspect the number of people who wrongly thought they were going to be hit by the charge, was much higher.

What was in reality a localised charge on only the most polluting vehicles, quickly became seen by many as a London-wide tax on all larger cars.

Londoners of all classes, both inner and outer, saw the looming prospect of a £25 charge and jumped straight into the arms of Boris.

This can be seen in the polling done at the time. 

One poll (commissioned by Ken) gave lots of detail about the scheme including which vehicles would be affected and which would be taken out of charging altogether.

After receiving all of this information, the poll showed widespread backing for the scheme. 

However another poll which asked simply about "increasing the congestion charge to £25 a day for higher polluting cars” found much narrower support at 41% to 39%.

And another more detailed poll showed that 74% of Londoners and 65% of Ken's voters thought the proposed £25 charge was too high.

That's a lot of opposition to what was Ken's big new policy for a third term.

And sure enough, the next poll conducted after this policy was announced showed Boris Johnson in the lead for the first time. A lead which Ken never recovered.

Of course there's no way of knowing for sure that it was the gas-guzzler charge that did it for Ken. 

But in a close election, it is exactly the kind of issue that could swing the balance.

In an interview today, Livingstone tells the Guardian that the gas guzzler charge is "definitely an idea we will revisit."

If I was him, I would make it a short visit.

Friday, 27 January 2012

Boris Johnson's campaign wastes a month on a fantasy

I wrote two weeks ago about Boris Johnson's fake campaign for an inevitable council tax freeze.

Day after day, thousands of Boris's supporters have been encouraged to spam London Assembly Members for no discernable purpose:

Emails have been sent, tweets composed, and leaflets prepared in favour of something that will happen anyway. No matter what anyone does.

The freeze, which is being implemented by almost every other local authority in the country, is supported by both Labour and the Lib Dems (who actually want to cut council tax).

Nobody wants to stop it, and even if they did, it would be impossible unless Boris Johnson's own Assembly Members voted against it.

That isn't going to happen. The freeze will take place, and Londoners will storm City Hall in gratitude at the literally handful of pounds it will save them this year.

Not content with campaigning for the inevitable, Boris's campaign have also tried to claim that Ken Livingstone's running mate is "leading the charge" against it.


What's surprising about this is not the dishonesty. It's the incompetence of it.

After wasting six months talking about national rather than London issues, Boris has now wasted the best part of a month on a fantasy.

And what has he got for it? One article in the Croydon advertiser, and a handful of other articles explaining what a waste of time it is.

In case Boris hasn't noticed, the election is only a few months away now.

In order to win he needs to do more than manufacture inevitable victories. He needs to persuade Londoners that he's in touch with their concerns.

Will he manage it? So far the signs don't look good. 

At this week's budget debate, Tory AM Steve O'Connell asked Boris about a claim "from a very good source" that Ken wants to reverse his booze ban on the tube.

Needless to say Livingstone has no such plans. 

O'Connell's fantasy claim, was followed up by a reply from Boris that Ken would probably make drinking on the tube "compulsory." An obvious smear.

And so after two polls putting Boris behind Ken, it's clear that the only lesson they have learnt is to go even more negative against Ken.

Will it work? Possibly. They had plenty of practice in 2008 and Boris has no shortage of former colleagues and toadies in the press to do his dirty work for him.

But in order to win Boris also needs to face up to reality. At Wednesday's meeting Boris boasted that he was "leading the city to a strong economic recovery."

This was on the same morning that we learnt that we are heading back into recession.

This does not suggest that he is in touch with the concerns of ordinary Londoners.

Unfortunately for his supporters, it also suggests he's not even in touch with his own campaign.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Do Labour actually want to win the Mayoral election?

We know that Ken Livingstone does. He's wanted it ever since May 3rd 2008 and has spent every day since then trying to win it.

But what about the rest of his party? Take this tale from Amol Rajan at the Independent:

"In November I sat next to one of the failed candidates for Labour's leadership at dinner. He was so utterly hateful of Ken and dismissive of his chances that I presumed he was exceptional in the party. But in fact senior Labour figures have been briefing against Ken for weeks. If they want control of London again, that should stop."

That is of course, assuming that they do want to win back control of London. And so far I'm far from convinced.

Ken and his team have been in opposition now for four years and are beginning to show that they want and know how to get back into power.

Nationally however, the party seem locked in a permanent state of opposition. Opposition that is, to themselves.

Hardly an hour goes by online without some new squabble, defection, or flame war between one or other of the barely distinguishable, but for some reason bitterly opposed, wings of the party.

And so pleased are they with this game of battleships that they have forgotten that there is a major and very much winnable election taking place right under their noses.

Their strategy is to play down the importance of the Mayoral elections so that if (and many of them assume when) Ken loses, they won't be tarnished too much by association.

This is the strategy of the loser.

Asked by LBC this week whether a Ken Livingstone win mattered to Ed Miliband, former minister Tessa Jowell replied that he was far more concerned with the general election in a few years time.

Jowell and her colleagues appear to have bought into the conventional wisdom that Boris is a dead cert to win.

He isn't. His achievements have been minimal and he is nowhere near as popular amongst Londoners as he is amongst lobby journalists in Westminster.

Luckily for Labour, Boris also appears to have bought into the conventional wisdom about himself and has spent the past six months obsessing about national rather than London issues.

And whilst Boris's head is stuck in the Thames Estuary sand, there is a real opportunity for Labour to move in and occupy the city he's deserted.

As the polls this week have shown, it is more than possible for Labour to do this. The only question is, do they really want it?

Monday, 23 January 2012

Ken Livingstone ahead in two latest polls


I was on LBC this morning with Nick Ferrari talking about a new Comres poll which puts him two points (51% to 49%) ahead of Boris Johnson.

This follows a YouGov poll last week with almost identical results, suggesting that Boris is managing to lose what many had assumed would be a straightforward election.

I've written more about why this is over at The Scoop:

"In 2008, Ken lost because he appeared complacent and out of touch, whilst Boris campaigned on the issues that Londoners cared about.

So whilst Ken banged on about climate change, Boris banged on about knife crime. Four years later and the opposite is now true.

Whilst Ken talks about fares, Boris talks about the 50p tax rate. Whilst Boris talks about helping bankers, Ken talks about helping commuters."

The big problem for Boris is that he has spent the past six months talking about issues (the European referendum, 50p tax rate, airports in Kent) which most Londoners simply don't care about.

Ken meanwhile has been banging on about the three issues (cost of living, transport and crime) which Londoners do care about when choosing their next Mayor.

At times Boris has seemed more concerned with the next election to be leader of the Conservative Party, than the current election, to be Mayor of London.

This has all been reflected in today's poll the details of which state that:

"Since our last poll in November 2011 Ken has overtaken Boris not only after reallocating second preferences (as the headline figure shows) but also on first preference votes (now leads 46% to 44% - in Nov Boris had an 8% point lead)

Boris’s loss of support is well demonstrated in the inner/outer split: in inner London Boris has 32% support - lower than Ken enjoys in outer London (43%).  Similarly Boris has 57% support in his own stronghold of outer London but this is again lower than Ken has in inner London (68%)."

The difficulty for Ken is that he has to persuade Londoners that after five years as GLC leader and two terms as Mayor, he still has something to offer.

He also has to realise that fares was always going to be his ace card. The other issues are much harder for him to win on and the election is still a long way away. 

The good news for Boris is that he still leads amongst outer Londoners and older Londoners, two groups most likely to vote.

And after two polls putting him behind, he may finally realise that being the Mayor of London is not his by right.


-UPDATE- The full numbers are now up: Boris leads Ken on the economy and crime, but Ken leads Boris on fares and "Knows most about the concerns of ordinary Londoners." There's still everything to play for. 

Friday, 13 January 2012

Why would anyone trust Boris Johnson to build a river crossing?

After four years of doing nothing, aside from cancel existing plans for a river crossing, Boris is now trying to convince us that he's the man to build another one:

 "within ten years."

Except he's already told us that *at most* he will only be in the job for another four years.

And even if he sticks around, why would you trust his pre-election promise on Silvertown Crossing this time, when he so blatantly broke his pre-election promises on Blackwall Tunnel last time?

And why would you trust such a huge project to a man who can't even set up a bike hire scheme or cable car without busting the budget?

And even if by some fluke the thing does get built on time and on budget, would it even be worth doing?

Because the Silvertown Crossing isn't a new river crossing in the same way that the Thames Gateway Bridge would have been.

It's essentially just a widening of the existing crossing at Blackwall, which would pump more traffic onto the same already massively congested approach roads.

But this is all by the by. The Silvertown Crossing isn't meant to be built. It's meant to make the Mayor appear like he's doing something for motorists and for SE London. 

And in that at least, the project has already been a resounding success.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Boris Johnson launches campaign for something that will happen anyway


Boris Johnson has called on his supporters to launch a letter-writing campaign for something that will happen anyway.

In an email to supporters, Boris's campaign chief Lynton Crosby claims that "he needs your help" in order to freeze the Mayor's share of the council tax precept.

"he wants to freeze your council tax - for the fourth year in a row. But he needs your help. His budget needs to be approved in a vote by London Assembly members... Boris will work hard to persuade them that your council tax should be frozen. But in 11 years, Labour have never once voted in favour of freezing your council tax...

You can help by writing to your Assembly member and urging them to vote for the Mayor’s budget, so send an email to your Assembly member now: www.borisbudget.com"

Except Boris doesn't need his supporters' help to freeze the council tax. In fact he doesn't even need the Labour, Lib Dem, or Green Party's help.

Under the GLA act all he needs is more than one third of the London Assembly to support his budget and it passes.

And as Conservative London Assembly members make up more than one third of the Assembly,  his budget will pass regardless of whether the other parties support it.

As it has done for the past the past three years!

So unless the Tory AMs are planning to oppose their own Mayor's precept freeze then Boris Johnson's supporters can save themselves a lot of pen, ink and tweets:


Sunday, 8 January 2012

How Boris Johnson also uses "Tourette's" slur


David Cameron is in trouble this morning for comparing Ed Balls to a Tourette's sufferer.

However in this matter he is one step behind his rival Boris Johnson. 

Two years ago during Mayor's Questions he said of London Assembly Member John Biggs:

"He keeps up a constant babble like he is a Tourettes syndrome fellow. He is like an old chap on a park bench rambling. I do not mind. We have to put up with it. It is care in the community!"

His comments were greeted with loud guffaws from Tory London Assembly Members, as they were when he repeated them almost word for word several months later:

"In spite of old care in the community here [gestures to John Biggs AM] with Tourettes and his constant barracking, I think we run a very harmonious operation."

David Cameron has swiftly apologised for his offensive comments. Two years on, there's little sign that Boris Johnson will ever do the same.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Boris Johnson on using City Hall for party political purposes

A spokesperson for Boris Johnson on a cheeky attempt by Ken Livingstone to rent the top floor of City Hall for a campaign event:

“The Mayor has no intention of using City Hall for pre-election party political purposes, so does not expect others to do so.”

Of course Boris would never consider using City Hall for party political purposes.

Well apart from when he used it repeatedly to hold secret meetings with his party political campaign manager of course.

And when that same campaign manager had un-minuted meetings with non-political City Hall staff.

Oh and when he gave that same campaign manager an access all areas pass reserved solely for City Hall employees.

But apart from all that Boris would never ever consider using City Hall for pre-election party political purposes. Oh no. Perish the thought!