Win or loose, today marked an important day for Ken Livingstone. When the results are announced tomorrow he’ll either confound his critics by securing a third term or he’ll be at the end of a remarkable political career.
As Londoners voted on his future Livingstone criss-crossed the capital to try and secure every last vote. Accompanying him as he took the tube across London I was constantly amazed at the lack of unease he displayed. Never complacent Ken constantly told reporters and voters that turnout would be the deciding factor. Every vote would count he said as he glad handed his way through communities.
Everywhere he went crowds gathered, people queued to have their photo taken and autographs were signed – it seemed almost everyone wanted a momento from their encounter.
The candidate played the crowd like only an old pro can, familiar faces were greeted by name and everyone got their comment – praise or gripe – listened to.
With a strange turn of phrase he urged voters to cast votes not just for him but for ‘my candidate for the London Assembly’ – speaking to several voters after their encounter with Ken it seemed he was still attracting support from people who had no intention of supporting Labour on the Assembly.
The sophistication of the London electorate was on constant display, one voter grumbled about the bendy bus but said he’d still voted for Ken because at least someone was spending money trying to improve things.
As the day progressed it became clear that this was a different election to the one written about by the mainstream media. Despite endless columns to the contrary no-one mentioned Lee Jasper, the LDA, 10p tax, council tax precepts or any of the other issues which pundits have insisted would be deciding factors. Instead people talked about buses, tubes, roads, crime and housing.
The cult of personality has been a constant theme of the election – Livingstone’s name recognition scores must be huge, even the kids knew who he was and what his job was. You got the impression that if under 18’s could vote he’d romp home.
Tube workers, PSCO’s, shopkeepers, stallholders, they all cheered him on. The manager of one branch of Boots asked him in so the staff could meet him. At times it seemed almost unthinkable that the result could be anything but a win for Ken.
Wherever we went a majority of people said they’d already voted. If everyone who said they’d voted really did we could be about to see the highest turnout of the three GLA elections to date.
The (invented?) ‘tired’ candidate of so many OpEd pieces was nowhere on show – this was the old street warrior, enthused, energetic and clearly enjoying himself.
Someone told me they were voting for him because they remembered being taken the GLC farewell party as a teen. Another cited his speech after the dreadful attacks of July 7th.
Could these reasons for voting – invisible to any opinion poll – secure Livingstone his third term and are they shared by enough people to wipe away weeks of negative headlines?
Edit: Here are two other accounts of the day from two perfectly nice people I’ve come to know slightly over the campaign.
Dave Hill has a video of the campaign in Stoke Newington and the Standard’s Paul Waugh also blogs on the whole day and just for the record it was my suggestion to allow Oyster cards to be used for paying taxis!