Thursday, 31 May 2012

Syria: International paralysis

The more the international community speaks out, the more impotent they sound. Words of condemnation become even stronger words of condemnation: we ‘deplore’, ‘are outraged’ ‘sickened,’ ‘horrified’ by events in Syria. Sanctions are ratcheted up with no desirable effect. Diplomats and ambassadors are expelled, surprising those who wondered why they were still in post in the first place.

There’s nothing reassuring about the world’s response to the massacre being waged by Syria’s President Assad against his own people. With one Arab Spring intervention behind, the West is loathed to take action again. And yet, whilst we intervened to prevent Colonel Gaddafi slaughtering the people of Benghazi, we won’t prevent Assad’s actual slaughter of the people of Homs and other areas.
Let me declare my hand and say that I wasn’t a supporter of the military response in Libya. Not because I didn’t want to see a tyrant ousted from power, but because I worried desperately that we were going to get embroiled in something we had little understanding of, exacerbating the death toll, with no idea what would come next once we helped the opposition take over.

The picture since Gaddafi’s overthrow has been mixed. All those who naively thought the Arab uprisings would give way to the blooming of secular democracies have been sorely disappointed. This is not to say that Libya isn’t better off without Gaddafi, but that the situation there is delicate to say the least.
Post war reprisals against supposed Gaddafi sympathisers – many of them black Africans – have marred some of the good will towards the rebels. Highly disturbing images and videos (warning: this link contains an extremely shocking video clip) have come out of torture and beatings, with revenge still on the minds of many rebels. One human rights activist from the town of Misrata says:

“...the brutal methods employed by former rebels are no different than that displayed by Gaddafi’s soldiers.”
Human Rights Watch has warned that legislation recently passed in the country threatens to criminalize freedom of speech:

“It will restrict free speech, stifle dissent, and undermine the principles on which the Libyan revolution was based.”
NATO has been accused of a dereliction of duty in not bothering to count the dead after its intervention. Casualty figures before and after have been virtually impossible to verify.

For Assad in Syria, it’s very much a case of like father like son. Emulating his father who, 30 years ago, crushed a rebellion, leaving anything from 10,000 to 40,000 people dead, depending on which source you consult. Today, the death toll in Syria stands at around 15,000, but again this figure is hard to corroborate.
So, why only words and no action? In Libya, it was Britain and France at the forefront of the action, with America taking a lesser role, happy to let it be seen as a predominantly European intervention. The situation in Libya was far more straight forward, in terms of what needed to be done. Syria presents many complex and unknown challenges. The UN Security Council is currently hamstrung by the refusal of Russia or China to isolate Assad. Whilst he retains their tacit support, because that’s what it is, he’s going nowhere.

As is always the case, the UN is only as effective as the sum of its parts; an easy target for some, notably the liberal interventionists, but the wrong target. Although it certainly didn’t help itself when UN monitors in the country coincided with an upsurge in violence, rather than their hopes of trying to quell it.
America will issue its powerfully worded statements, but there’s no way President Obama wants to get bogged down in another conflict on Muslim terrain. Not five months before a general election. The fortunes of the US economy is very much priority number one right now.

France’s newly elected President Hollande, as well as Germany’s Angela Merkel, are too pre-occupied with trying to stop the implosion of the Euro and its member states to devote their energies to anything else. Besides, Germany failed to lend its backing to the Libyan mission. Which leaves Britain, where there appears little appetite for action, with David Cameron no doubt briefed that any intervention could last far longer than Libya, which itself lasted longer than many predicted.
Syria’s rebels are therefore left with no more than the sounds of a disapproving, but seemingly toothless, international community ringing in their ears, knowing that words will do nothing to dampen the violence. President Assad knows this too, which is why the killings will go on and on.

This article was first published on Speaker's Chair on Thursday 31 May 2012

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Where does Labour now stand on civil liberties?

A firm and unequivocal commitment to standing up for civil liberties will not win Labour the next election. But, they should make one anyway.
If there’s one issue which the party badly lost its way on, it was this one. Too quick to kowtow to a hysterical and unforgiving right wing press, the party passed a whole series of regressive and disproportionate pieces of legislation, mostly in the fight against terrorism. In some cases, laws which were pitched as necessary counter-terror measures soon became hijacked by nosey and over-zealous councils.
Last week’s fascinating study by the Fabian Society brought to focus Labour’s new-found appeal to ex-Lib Dems. Three-quarters of ‘Ed’s converts’ hail from the coalition’s junior partner, apparently more left-wing than either Labour or Lib Dem voters from 2010.
In order not to squander this support, Labour should dangle a civil liberties promise under their noses. This means moving beyond Ed Balls’ admission that the party skewed the balance between liberty and security. It is after all still a bread and butter issue for Lib Dems, something which unites and galvanises many of its members and MPs.
The dilemma Labour has is that whilst it flirts with its new allies, it still needs to speak to its traditional, working class base. According to Andrew Harrop this could define the party’s strategy for the next three years:
“Labour still has a long way to go to develop ideas and language that appeal both to lower income communities and left liberal voters, who now make up two distinct ‘core’ constituencies for the party. These blocs can be brought together on economic issues, but Miliband faces a real challenge in defining a social agenda that motivates both blue-collar voters and social liberals.”
In other words, the party could find itself pulled in two directions.
Let’s be clear, safeguarding civil liberties will capture few headlines. It’s not one of the public’s most pressing concerns. One could argue that it’s merely an issue for the chattering classes. It’s more about perception, but perception is everything in politics. Unfortunately, in almost every poll, the public have sided with laws which trample on civil liberties in exchange for assurances over their safety.
The debate in favour of protecting the public has been skilfully, but simplistically, framed in terms of those who are ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ on terror. The battle to be crowned ‘the party of law and order’ never ends. The moment the Tories get a sniff that Labour is starting to speak the language of the ‘appeaser,’ the right wing attack dogs will be unleashed, painting Ed Miliband as someone who’s more concerned with the human rights of terror suspects than the rights of terrorism’s victims.
It is therefore vital that the party lead from the front, taking the fight to the government. In opposition, the Conservatives pledged to turn the tide back towards liberty, and published a pamphlet, Reversing the Rise of the Surveillance State, where they vowed to take an axe to  the UK’s ‘mammoth databases’ and the excessive details it stores :
“A Conservative government will take a fundamentally different approach. We believe that your personal information belongs to you, not the state.

Except, a couple of months ago, ‘Snooper’s Charter’ entered the political lexicon to decry government plans to track everyone’s email, text, Facebook and internet use. It was left to groups such as Liberty and Big Brother Watch to lead the charge against these proposals. The response from the opposition bench was muted at best, perhaps still conscious of the fact that the previous Labour government failed to cover itself in glory on this very issue. In fact, if it sounded like something they would have introduced themselves, that’s probably because it was.
Comfort should be taken from Ed Miliband’s leadership victory speech and his remark that Labour had appeared "casual" about civil liberties, professing that he wouldn’t let the Tories or Lib Dems "take ownership of the British tradition of liberty". Two years on, there may still be a feeling within the party that they are standing on dodgy ground, unable yet to convincingly oppose such ideas.
If this isn’t something which resonates with the public, why waste time pursuing it? Because it goes to the very essence of what it means to be a liberal. And because many of these liberals have decamped over to Labour and should be rewarded. Where Andrew Harrop’s research comes unstuck is in his assertion that a large proportion of ‘Ed’s converts’ have permanently settled:
“Intuitively this stands to reason, since a largely left-leaning group has few other places to turn.”
Taking any voters for granted, least of all swing ones, is fraught with danger. Many could decide that staying at home is preferable to voting for either party. An unambiguous, genuine, commitment to undo some of the harm of the past should be enough to satisfy new friends.
It’s also the right thing to do. Ed Miliband has already demonstrated that he’s not afraid to take on certain sections of the press. He’ll need plenty of ammo if he is to win this latest battle. But first he needs to convince the liberal left that he’s also on their side.

This article was first published by Shifting Grounds on Tuesday 22 May 2012

Monday, 21 May 2012

Tuition Fees: students have the right to ask for quality and more teaching

In the furore over the trebling of university tuition fees somebody forgot about the customer, to pinch Higher Education (HE) parlance. When proposed, debates honed in, naturally enough, on the extra expense of post 18 education.
But it failed to address the quality question: what are students going to be getting in return for this additional outlay? If they are now expected to fork out up to £9,000 a year for a degree, it follows that quality and time spent with their tutors should also increase. Except, this is doubtful.
Figures out last week shed light on the effects of the first round of fee-tripling (to £3,000) and found the hike didn’t correspond with more teaching, be it in the form of lectures or tutorials.  Students received no more than 14 hours tuition a week: a paltry 12 minutes increase since the rise in 2006. Teaching actually fell. What students lacked in tuition they made up for in private study.
Being over £30,000 in debt before you even set foot in the workplace, if you can find a job that is, is an unenviable proposition. The least students can expect is some sort of return with regards to more tuition and better teaching.
It’s no longer sustainable or even equitable to rely on the tax payer to subsidise university education; students must now pay their way, contribute to the cost of getting a degree, so the arguments went.

Not once did I hear about what efforts would be made to improve the whole ‘student experience,’ to borrow another awful HE/marketing term. This is what makes last week’s findings by the Higher Education Policy Institute so dispiriting.
I recall my own days as a Politics undergraduate, straining to find the time to cope with my 8 hours a week (that’s lectures and tuition combined). I was the first cohort of fee payers (just the derisory £1,000 a year back then), and even now, struggle to comprehend what I was getting for my money.

A handful of lectures a week, delivered on PowerPoint, with attendance rapidly dropping off after the first few weeks. Seminars consisted of a room full of a dozen or so (very hungover) students and the tutor.
Spending three years as a university lecturer teaching Politics and International Relations I got to see things from the other side: never more than an hour or so a week of contact time with the same students, thus puncturing any hopes of building up much of a rapport.

The lack of face to face interaction with their tutors meant students were quickly demotivated and distracted by the plethora of other activities on offer.
I remember speaking to a senior lecturer who had been working there for over 30 years and told me that one of the problems with higher education is that it is divided between those who can, teach, and those who can’t, do research: the idealistic ones, with teaching backgrounds, there to impart knowledge and enthuse their students (me), and those who devote most of their time to research and writing books and journal articles, representing their employer outside the confines of the university, giving it kudos when studies are released and books written (the majority).
There’s no doubt that in 20 or 30 years universities will feel like very different institutions. Lord Mandelson, speaking in 2009, alluded to changes which (it wouldn’t surprise me) may be afoot in the not so distant future. Namely, the two year degree, an ever more likely scenario.
Even before higher fees become commonplace, students have become more vocal and more critical. A study commissioned last year  found many students unimpressed at the quality of teaching received, as a well as a lack of contact time and feedback.

After graduating, up to a third of undergraduates felt ill-prepared for the world of work. More than half thought the standard of teaching better at their schools.
Already steps are being taken by some universities to offset this fee rise. London Metropolitan is to offer its students six more weeks of teaching time, taking its total to 30 weeks a year. Some students are choosing to study overseas, in countries with considerably lower fees, and courses in English, such as Maastricht, in the Netherlands.
Undergraduates are also becoming (rightly) more demanding, with complaints reaching record levels, rising by 33% in a year. Rob Behrens, head of the adjudicator’s office which investigates them, said this reflected a ‘consumerist’ attitude and a heightened awareness of value for money:
"There has been a lot of policy discussion about fees in the past year [2010] and it's concentrated students' minds into thinking about the merits of what they're getting. It's encouraged them to be more like consumers - and consumers are more likely to complain.”
The days of students being passive recipients are over.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Monday 21 May 2012

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Return of the New Labour Big Beasts

Just when he thought it was safe to oppose alone, carving out his own narrative and winning over exiled lefties, along comes some unexpected cheerleaders. The New Labour crew have returned, piggybacking on Ed Miliband’s (or more accurately, Labour’s) recent surge in the polls.

Fresh from spreading pearls of wisdom in the Middle East, uniting the world’s faiths, and advising dictators on economic and political reform, Tony Blair has joined Lord Mandelson in rallying round the Labour leader. Or so it seems.
According to a scoop back in March, The Sun revealed that Miliband and Blair had been in secret talks about strategy and the need for the party to be ‘at the centre ground of British politics.’

Now he’s popped up again, with his chum Mandelson by his side, with yesterday’s Financial Times (£) headline: “Blair to back Labour’s economic strategy.” The paper stated that:
“Tony Blair and Lord Mandelson are to add their weight to Labour’s calls for a renewed emphasis on growth in a sign that the big beasts of the New Labour era are returning to the cause to help make the party’s case on the economy.”

No doubt Ed will feel emboldened by this soon to be very public backing of his and Ed Balls’ ‘too far, too fast’ mantra.

The question that the party faithful will be asking is whether a New Labour intervention strengthens, weakens, or even undermines Ed Miliband’s standing.
If his main line of attack on the government receives the thumbs up from one of the party’s most successful double acts, then this surely shows that he is on the right track, knows what he’s doing, and most crucially for the voters, is economically competent.

Yet, it may also weaken him. Ed has declared, from the moment he took over, that New Labour’s time has passed, with a new generation waiting in the wings. The insular and destructive Blairite-Brownite feuds have been consigned to history. Will they now be re-opened? An acknowledgement of some past mistakes has been made, time to look forward. This drags Labour back.
It has been argued that Ed must be his own person and ‘take on the Blairite zombies:’

“The Labour leader has been successful when he's been bold: standing for leader, opposing Murdoch, making the case for a new economic model.
“As long as he is threatened internally, he will look weak. So he needs to pick a fight with a leading Blairite and win – to show who is in charge.”

But, Blair’s foray into front line British politics is intended to back Ed. The question is what comes next. If Tony Blair does make a full-time return, as some have speculated, there could be many more Blairist incursions to come. And you can bet they won’t all be as glowing.
In terms of undermining Ed Miliband, Blair’s presence will act as a constant reminder (to himself, the party, and the public) as to the size of the shoes that need filling. The stature and gravitas of the two men will invite endless comparisons.

However, there is a feeling that Blair is yesterday’s man, no longer the powerful force he once was. A recent poll found that only 24% of people would be more likely to vote Labour if he, rather than Ed, was leader, with 40% less likely. Amongst Labour voters in 2010, the figures were roughly reversed, with 40% more, and 21% less likely. Not exactly a ringing endorsement.
The likely outcome of all this is that Ed Miliband will have to do even more to show that he is his own person, be enthused and delighted for the cameras for any support that comes his way, but privately hope that the New Labour entourage give him a wide berth and sticks to self-promotion and after dinner speeches.

This article was first published by Shifting Grounds on Wednesday 16 May 2012

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

The Coalition: Two years on

A marriage of convenience consummated on the Downing Street lawn in May 2010 gave birth to Britain’s coalition government. Arm in arm, two parties united in its commitment to wipe out the budget deficit within the term of a parliament.

Yet a vow to bring stability to the country has morphed into ideological zeal. Eradicating the deficit has become an obsession. Warnings that this would be damaging to an already fragile economy have fallen on deaf ears. A plan B has never been forthcoming. Plan A is not for turning. As a consequence, Britain faces its slowest economic recovery in history.
A pig-headed refusal to countenance a new strategy, points to a government wilfully discarding the evidence in favour of a commitment to shrinking the state and slashing benefits.

Ideological fervour aside, running through its core, this is a government beset by incompetence. From policy u-turns to a bungled Budget: the most dissected and regurgitated in years. Dodgy party treasurers give off a whiff of financial sleaze; ministers accused of colluding with media barons hints at corruption of the highest order.

Class has become the stick with which to beat the Tories once again.

Nadine Dorries, Tory backbencher, has delivered the most stinging rebuke, condemning the Prime Minister and Chancellor as:

“Two arrogant posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, and who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others - and that is their real crime.”
After years of thinking that class doesn’t matter, that class won’t hurt them, it has taken one of their own to bring it to the forefront again in such clinical fashion.

At every stage, at every initiative, the Lib Dems have never been far behind: active instigators, rather than passive bystanders.
Whilst many thought that they would curb the worst Tory instincts, the opposite has been true. They have bolstered them, given them free reign to embark on a series of highly unpopular and destructive policies.

The NHS reform bill, now law, showed them at their most ruthless. An Act which points to creeping privatising, and opposed by huge sways of the medical profession as: ‘complex, incoherent, and not fit for purpose...and irreversibly damaging.’
All coming soon after the release of a report in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine which labelled the NHS as one of the most cost-effective systems in the developed world, saving more lives at a cheaper rate than any country except Ireland.

After analysing data since 1980, the report’s author, Professor Colin Pritchard, maintained that:
“The government proposals to change the NHS are largely based on the idea that the NHS is less efficient and effective than other countries, especially the US.

"The results question why we need a big set of health reform proposals ... The system works well. Look at the US and you can see where choice and competition gets you. Pretty dismal results."
The Lib Dems gambled on their raison d’ĂȘtre: voting reform. It never came, soundly beaten in last May’s referendum, off the back of a disingenuous ‘NO’ campaign, conducted by their Tory coalition partners. Whilst right in principle, any appetite for a change in the voting system fell far down most peoples’ list of concerns.

The trebling of university tuition fees gave succor to the view that the Liberals were prepared to sacrifice everything and anything in order for a seat at the top table. It also invariably damaged the standing of their once hailed leader, Nick Clegg.
But, it all comes back to the economy. A report out last week, by one of Britain’s leading economic think tanks, the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR), argued that the high levels of unemployment would do ‘permanent damage to the UK's productive capacity.’

The weakness in the economy was ‘unprecedented,’ with growth this year forecast at close to zero. They added that Britain being in a double-dip recession was nothing more than a technicality:
“Small quarter-to-quarter movements are largely irrelevant to the broader picture of an economy that remains very weak.

"Our monthly estimate of GDP suggests the level of economic activity in the economy in March 2012 was the same as in September 2010.

"This clearly does not constitute a sustained recovery.”

Four years after the start of the credit crunch and global downturn, the UK economy is still 4% below its pre-crisis peak.
Embarking on austerity at all costs has come at a price. Comparisons with the US make for sober reading. Official figures for last year showed that the US economy grew by 1.7%, compared to 0.8% in the UK.

For 2012, Britain has already got off to a rocky start, with the economy shrinking by 0.2% in the first quarter of the year, and the country sinking into its longest depression for 100 years. Meanwhile, the US’s continues to rise, growing by 2.2% for the same period:
While Obama chose to stimulate growth, Cameron chose to strangle it.”

Revered Noble-Prize winning economist, Paul Krugman, calls this ‘Cameron’s remarkable achievement:
“The defense I hear from Cameron apologists is that the austerity mostly hasn’t even hit yet. But that’s really not much of a defense. Remember, the austerity was supposed to work by inspiring confidence; where’s the confidence? Basically, the expansionary aspect should already have kicked in; it’s all contraction from here.

“[Instead], Britain will continue on a death spiral of self-defeating austerity.”
A victory for the basic, fundamental, laws of Keynesian economics.

The government can see the figures. It must look enviously over the pond, yet still refuses to change tack.
On taking office it repeated the flawed narrative that it had inherited record levels of government spending, stemmed from Labour’s mismanagement of the economy. Rather than the evidence, which showed it was the 2008 financial collapse which brought the economy to its knees.

Whilst this line convinced the electorate for a period, it has started to wear win. People want to see an alternative to cuts and anaemic growth.
Latest polls put the Tories at 29%, their lowest level of support since 2004; and it’s only taken them two years to achieve this feat. Labour are hovering around the 40% mark.

The Lib Dems face electoral oblivion unless they can distance themselves and find their own voice. Something I wouldn’t count on. Power-sharing has proven too enticing. Everything else can wait, including the next general election. Enjoy the ride whilst it lasts.
The coalition has had a shocking few weeks. One can’t help get the impression that the Conservatives are behaving like a party who were told they only had days to prepare for government, rather than the five years they’d actually had.

Incompetence pervades every level. The charge that they’re out of their depth is beginning to stick. That, and a stuttering recovery, makes the already onerous task of an outright Tory majority in 2015, that much less likely. Hopefully, Labour will be better prepared.

This article was first published by Shifting Grounds on Tuesday 8 May 2012

Friday, 4 May 2012

Bristol Bucks The Trend

Really wonderful news that Bristol has opted to have an elected mayor, standing alone amongst the ten other cities who voted yesterday.

Admittedly on a dismal turnout of just 24%, (although there weren’t any local council elections this time round) the Yes vote carried by a majority of 5,152: 41,032, or 53%, came out in favour, against the 35,880, or 47% of voters, happy with the status-quo.

It’s not a ringing endorsement of the mayoral concept – only 12% of the city actually voted yes – but it’s a crucial start. There has long been a view that whilst Bristol is a terrific city to live in, it lacks real leadership.

Plagued by hung councils, business leaders have in the past warned that minority administrations risk harming the local economy.

Speaking before the 2011 local election, James Durie, director of the Initiative at GWE Business West and Bristol Chamber of Commerce, said:

"It's not helpful if there is change and uncertainty.

"We've seen that on the national stage with the comprehensive spending review – firms holding off from investment or implementing new strategies because of the uncertainty of what was going to happen.

"Locally, we would advocate stability and consistency."

Last year, Lord Adonis, Labour peer and championing elected mayors, said that the city was ‘working particularly badly.’ Pointing out that Bristol has had seven different leaders in the past 10 years, he queried how the current set up could benefit the city:

“The big issue is can Bristol have a stronger, more effective, leadership if it goes to an elected mayor and doesn't have this constant instability in the council which is leading to poor services?

"An elected mayor would have a proper strategic plan for the city.

"[This] which would bring much greater focus, much greater energy and much greater corporate effort into improving services.

"Constant changes in administration [are] not good for strategic planning and not good for engendering confidence in the city."

Now the city has just that chance.

The concept of the elected mayor has always been a leap of faith, a step into the unknown. Even though there are other mayors outside of London (in Leicester and Doncaster, for example), the range of powers afforded to the latest mayors (Liverpool and Salford sensibly, in my mind, bypassed the referendum and went straight to voting one in) is still pretty much up in the air.

Asking voters to decide on something when even the government hasn’t been clear was never going to be an easy sell. It would have made far more sense to entice voters with the promise of what a mayor would bring to their city, rather than allowing them to merely imagine. In the end, most weren’t prepared to.

For Bristol, the result is vindication for the hard work and persistence by Jaya Chakrabarti, who has been leading the ‘Yes’ campaign and was naturally delighted with the result:

“We hope that when we get to choosing a mayor for the city that we can engage the entire city and bring the whole city forward to a new level," she said.

"We are very proud to have bucked the national trend."

Local Labour activist, former councillor, and a long time proponent of the idea, Paul Smith, believes the council is stuck in a rut and needs shaking up. The city needs:

“Someone with the democratic legitimacy to speak for the whole city not just one political part, [and] who draws votes from all of the city and doesn’t ignore areas where their party can’t win wards.”

A mayor will finally have an opportunity to escape the quagmire of never-ending hung councils and set about tackling the city’s chronically unreliable and expensive bus service, which many locals will tell you should find its way to the top of any ‘to do’ list.

Roll on November 15, where a new mayor will be sworn into office. It can’t come too soon.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Friday 4 May 2012

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

London Mayoral Election: A Victory for Presidential Politics

If Boris Johnson is re-elected Mayor of London this week, and all the polling data suggests he will be, it’ll be a triumph for brand ‘Boris,’ over the worn-out, past his sell-by date ‘Ken.’

The advent of directly elected mayors, still in its embryonic stage in England, but on the verge of being swept far and wide, has produced precisely the type of presidential politics than one would have expected.

When voters plump for Boris, they are doing so because they warm to him as a person, rather than for any real affection for his politics. Conversely, when voters turn against Ken Livingstone they are not rejecting his policies and ideas, but the man himself.

How do we know this? The evidence suggests it.

Polls have consistently shown than Boris is far more popular than the Conservative Party. Like his party, he is seen as the candidate of the rich; allied himself with the Chancellor in denouncing the 50% rate tax on higher earners (scrapped in the Budget), and boasts about being a ‘tax-cutting Conservative.’

His reward for all this? A 10 point lead over the Conservatives in London, and 12 points ahead of the party overall, a phenomenon known as the ‘Boris bounce.’ His support amongst female voters trumps Ken by a whopping 18 points.

Rather than capitalising on plunging support for the Tories, Ken Livingstone has seen his brand take a rather severe beating this campaign. How else to explain him trailing Labour by 3 points? The so-called ‘Ken drag.’

Ken has had to devote a large part of his time defending his integrity and fractured relationship with London’s Jewish community. Rather than wooing voters, he has repelled them. He has isolated high-profile Labour supporters. Many have grown tired of the excuses and have stopped standing up for him.

He has been unable to brag about his impressive record at City Hall.

Making the election all about personality has suited Boris down to the ground, and has had Ken playing catch up from the start. Especially when he has had an uphill battle convincing his party’s own base to vote for him, let alone anyone else.

As local government expert at the LSE, Tony Travers, notes:

“Boris is still way ahead on likeability. This suggests it is an election between Boris and Ken – not the Conservatives and Labour.”

Welcome to the world of presidential politics, now gone local.

This comment piece was first published by Speaker's Chair on Tuesday 1 May 2012