As Ken Livingstone is adopted as Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate, Conservative Group Leader on the London Assembly Roger Evans predicts that a return to 80’s style opposition to government cuts won’t be enough to return Livingstone to City Hall.
Candidates seeking a second term in office all face a common challenge – how to remind voters why they supported you the first time. In London, Labour have made this task much easier by reselecting Ken Livingstone. Pundits may conclude that the 2012 campaign will be nothing more than an action replay.
Of course familiarity in politicians can be a good thing, but it can also bore a modern electorate hungry for new possibilities. So what can Londoners expect from Ken? Will the old leopard be able to change his spots? And will the backdrop to the election have altered?
Perhaps the most obvious difference will be at national level. With a Liberal Conservative government in office and making unpopular mid term cuts, Ken will be tempted to portray himself as a defender of the capital in a reprise of his time at the GLC in the eighties. Last week he was pictured addressing union activists outside City Hall, comfortably sliding into his old familiar role.
But this isn’t the eighties. Voters are looking for more than just knee jerk opposition, they want politicians who will embrace new solutions. Beyond the radical fringes, they want their leaders to cooperate to bring us through the difficult times we face. Contrast the approval attracted by the coalition parties pooling their efforts with public opposition to the RMT’s class war tactics.
Slapping up red banners attacking the government is no substitute for constructive negotiations. London’s government is no longer located provocatively opposite Parliament, and Lord Foster’s City Hall provides little space to hang left wing propaganda.
Ken is skilled at portraying himself as the voice of London, and his knowledge of matters affecting the capital can be scarily detailed. But his appeal doesn’t extend across the whole city. In office he became known for neglecting the suburbs, visiting Havana more often than Havering or Hounslow.
Boris provoked much laughter when he fell in the Quaggy River during a photo opportunity – Ken would never have fallen in, because the Quaggy River isn’t in Zone 1. Voters in outer London flocked to the polls in unprecedented numbers in 2008, precisely so that they could vote Ken out. We can expect to see a rerun of the famous ‘doughnut strategy’ in 2012.
And the hostility is not just suburban. Ken will need to offer the voters of Kensington and Chelsea more than the reimposition of the congestion charge extension if he is to secure their votes.
A ‘marmite politician’, Ken seeks to appeal to particular groups, often courting their support by attacking their enemies. Most notoriously, his views on Gaza and his embrace of a radical cleric went down well with the Muslim vote but alienated many Jewish voters who would otherwise have supported Labour. In contrast, Boris sought in 2008 to reach out beyond the traditional Conservative base, understanding the need to garner second preference votes. His victory was a rejection of the narrow identity politics that has no place in a city of such diverse cultures.
The British love an underdog and for a while Ken developed into a professional victim, first of Margaret Thatcher who abolished his power base, then of Tony Blair who forced him to seek office as an independent. More recently members of the House of Lords tried to introduce a two term limit to prevent him standing in 2008. I’m glad they failed and I’m glad that the electorate got to deliver the ultimate verdict. This time there will be no sympathy votes.