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

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