That Ken Livingstone can still draw a crowd was evident from his reception in Croydon this lunchtime even if the purpose of the visit – to launch his bid to become Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate – confused or passed by a number of those who queued to have their pictures taken with him.
Unless there’s a surprise candidate waiting to enter the race – currently comprising just Livingstone and former MP Oona King – it’s difficult to see Livingstone not ending up as Labour’s candidate.
That however is the easy part.
Unlike a council or Parliamentary election there are no shades of winning or losing the job of Mayor of London and in 2008 Livingstone unambiguously lost. Voters rejected not only the policies he offered for a third term but also those he’d already implemented during his 8 years in office which they no longer found attractive.
We don’t yet know whether Boris Johnson will run for a second term – personally I wouldn’t shocked if he didn’t – but in many ways it’s an irrelevance because to be a credible candidate in 2012 the Livingstone campaign has to about what he offers London, not a series of negative attacks on Johnson and his record or a ‘back to the future’ commitment to undo changes implemented by his successor.
Neither can Team Ken rely on Johnson’s popularity being dented by the national Conservative party – the unchartered waters of coalition mean no-one knows how the public may reward or punish the two parties now in Government.
Besides, as Livingstone’s own people never tire of pointing out, in 2008 he outpolled Labour in many areas and there’s no reason to assume Johnson’s own personal vote will desert him because of the actions of a Government he has no part in.
In 2000 Livingstone caught the public mood by defining himself against Blair and New Labour’s dogmatic PPP scheme, even in 2004 that helped him secure re-election but Labour may finally be about to bury the Blair/Brown era and, thanks to Johnson, the sun will soon set on PPP.
To have any chance of being heard by those who rejected him in 2008, Livingstone must use the weeks and months ahead to show he understands the future challenges facing London and set out a compelling response to them.