On Tuesday Ken Livingstone’s election campaign launched a new poster campaign advising of a ‘pickpocket’ operating on public transport.
The pickpocket was of course Livingstone’s chief opponent and incumbent Mayor, Boris Johnson.
Given that fares are the only part of Livingstone’s campaign to come close to capturing the public’s imagination, it’s easy to see why Team Ken are so keen to continually highlight recent increases.
Stylistically the ad is clever, it catches the eye and reminds voters that the Mayor personally signs off on all fares increases.
But, as I tweeted yesterday, it’s also very personalised and pretty much confirms my fears that Londoners are in for another negative Mayoral election.
Depressingly, the rhetoric is going to get more and more bad tempered as May gets closer.
In some ways Ken’s advert isn’t so different from Boris’s 2008 campaign’s police witness appeal ad.
Back then Ken’s supporters howled in protest while Team Boris thought (correctly) they’d scored a powerful hit against a Mayor who allowed himself to sound out of touch over street crime.
This time around Boris is the Mayor making it easy for opponents to portray him as out of touch.
At yesterday’s London Assembly meeting, he confirmed to Darren Johnson that while he was prepared to put up fares, he never considered increasing the congestion charge.
Already portrayed as the motorists’ friend, Boris helps make the label stick.
But back to Livingstone’s poster.
On Wednesday he popped up on BBC London 94.9 where he clashed with Vanessa Feltz over the ad’s negativity and found time to have a verbal swing at Andrew Gilligan (see Andrew’s response here).
I think it’s fair to say Ken’s detractors haven’t enjoyed one of his interviews quite so much since I quizzed him about his own fares record.
What’s most striking about his BBC outing is the speed in which Livingstone went on the offensive. In response to a pretty mild line of questioning, he really lets rip.
There’s a lot of campaigning ahead, and with it a lot of scrutiny. Ken really can’t afford to blow his stack whenever he’s asked to justify his policies or campaigning tactics.