Shortly after he was selected as Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate, Ken Livingstone promised to visit all 32 London boroughs as he gathers material for his manifesto.
He’s now around two thirds of the way through his ‘Tell Ken’ days which consist of walkabouts/visits in the day and an open Q&A in the evening.
I’ve already been along to observe the daytime goings-on at Croydon and Southwark and last night popped along to observe a Q&A in Tooting.
I caught up with Team Ken at Clapham Junction just a few yards from where an angry crowd heckled Boris Johnson in the aftermath of the riots and some shouted that they wanted Livingstone.
If you’re prone to rising blood pressure at the merest hint that Livingstone has even residual popularity you might want to look away about now.
It’s fair to say the locals weren’t exactly scattering rose petals at his feet but a good number of shoppers and passersby happily stopped to take a leaflet or talk to the man himself and, as on past occasions, some wanted their picture taken with him.
On the bus from Clapham Junction to Tooting commuters were fascinated by their celebrity fellow passenger. Many waved, smiled and called out and one slightly nervous young guy came up to tell Ken he’d be backing him “to stop the cuts”, a sentiment several people sitting nearby nodded along with.
Perhaps Livingstone’s anti-coalition, anti-cuts rhetoric is fertile ground after all?
At the Q&A venue campaign team members were handing out more flyers in the hope of tempting people into the hall to share their thoughts with Ken.
In the end a mix of Labour members and ordinary folk formed a crowd of around 130, larger than expected which meant some of us had to stand.
As people entered they were asked to sign in and state whether they were party members, Ken’s press officer suggested later that around two-thirds were not.
I can’t verify that but when attendees were asked to put their hand up if they were members the majority of arms stayed firmly down, though it’s possible shyness played a part in this.
One intensive note-taking member of the audience was fingered to be the evening’s not so undercover Boris spy.
The sound quality isn’t great but you can hear Ken’s opening remarks in the clip below:
Questions covered all the issues you’d expect – fares, housing, transport, policing – and critics including LibDem hopeful Brian Paddick will be pleased to hear Ken once again referenced Margaret Thatcher.
On housing Ken said we needed to move away from the idea that renting a home from the council was something to be ashamed of and “bacK’ towards mixed rental developments of all income and social groups.
Council homes should not be “a ghetto”, he also seems to have picked up on Boris’s ‘size matters’ rhetoric as there was a reference to using the London Plan – the Mayor’s development policy – to ensure homes were a decent size.
Ken’s favourite whipping boy Tony Blair came in for some criticism for failing to build more council homes.
As Adam first reported some months ago, he’s also firmly closing the door on further congestion charge zones or extensions, insisting restoring the WEZ would cost “£100m” which the 2012 winner won’t have and, prepare yourself, suggested that the larger a congestion charge zone is, the less effective it is.
His campaign team declared themselves pleased with the night but can Ken turn friendly applause and polite leaflet taking into sufficient votes to win next May?
Your guess is as good as mine but I’m increasingly certain that writing him off, as Paddick does, as a yesterday’s man with no chance at all is folly.
For their part, Team Ken are openly dismissive that Paddick can deliver on his rhetoric of converting his second preferences into enough first round votes to be in the final two runners with Boris.
But just in case, and while they’ll clearly devote most of their firepower and resources on Boris, don’t be surprised if the Livingstone campaign put just a little bit more effort into attacking Paddick than they did in 2008.