“Come May 3rd people won’t remember what happened before Christmas…the real campaign starts in January”, so said Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate Brian Paddick in our interview last week.
He should hope that’s true – yesterday’s Comres poll gave him just 7% of first preference votes. That’s a long way short of where he needs to be in order to oust Ken Livingstone from the final two and have a chance of winning City Hall.
Paddick won’t be the only one hoping the poll isn’t an accurate reflection of next May’s result.
Its 46% showing for Ken Livingstone, versus 54% for Boris Johnson, would mean four years of campaigning and positioning by the former Mayor have been wasted.
Worse for Livingstone and Labour, yesterday’s poll suggests Johnson is more popular than when he won in 2008.
But as the LSE’s Tony Travers (Patron Saint of London commentators) suggested in yesterday’s Evening Standard, “there is still much to play for”.
That looks to be especially true on the issue of fares.
While Boris leads Ken on most issues, 59% of respondents agree with the statement: “In the current economic climate, tube fares should be kept as low as possible even if this means stopping upgrade works”.
And when those polled were told Livingstone planned to decrease fares, 38% said that made them “more likely” to vote for him. As Andrew Gilligan says, fares are proving to be Boris’s Achilles heel.
The coalition’s intervention to lower January’s fares rise from 7% to 6% is unlikely to dampen opposition to increases.
To date, Livingstone has been campaigning almost entirely on fares but, if Paddick is right, people aren’t yet listening to what any candidate is saying.
When they do, will voters warm to Livingstone’s message or will, as his detractors have long claimed, Labour suffer from having the wrong messenger?
Disappointingly, the poll also suggests a significant number of Londoners are going to exclude themselves from the final decision on who gets to be Mayor.
42% are currently planning to give their second preference vote to a candidate other than Ken or Boris, currently the two front runners.
When all the first preference votes are counted, only the two highest placed candidates go forward to the second round.
This means only 2nd preference votes cast for those two candidates are counted. If you cast your second preference for anyone other than those two candidates, it won’t be counted.
This message needs to be hammered home by London Elects to ensure every voter fully understands how the system works so that, if they wish, they help pick a Mayor in the final round of voting.