Today’s appeal for the votes of LibDems by Ken Livingstone suggests he is not as confident of victory as he should be at this stage of the elections.
Mr. Livingstone has several pluses going for him – he’s the incumbent, there have been real improvements in the number of police and buses and his congestion charge has not been the disaster many predicted.
However by rejoining Labour he has deprived himself of the broad, cross-party support that carried him to City Hall in 2000. It is difficult to see many Tory supporters giving him their second preference – the differences between his and Steve Norris policies are too great to make either a logical second choice for their opponent’s supporters.
Today Mr Livingstone sought to dismiss the prospects of LibDem candidate Simon Hughes and appealed to his backers to switch allegiance.
The problem for Livingstone is that most LibDems in the capital despair of Labour’s support for a war in Iraq, which they see as immoral and unjust. Many will not separate his public opposition to the war with the actions of the Labour government he now represents.
The Mayor is to some extent trying to have it both ways, he’s asking London voters to give him “the strongest possible Labour team in the London Assembly” while at the same time he holds at arms length certain aspects of Labour policy in an effort to poach support from his opponents.
In playing down the chances of a Hughes victory, Livingstone is hoping to turn the election into a two horse race between him and Norris. Mayor Livingstone will be aware that a strong showing from Hughes could rob him of his re-election.
Hughes shows no sign of concern and dismissed Livingstone’s appeal saying: “Mr Livingstone has played this game before and lost. The outgoing Mayor said that it was between Labour and Tories in Brent East and it was the Liberal Democrats that won. Londoners will not be fooled and will know that a vote for Ken Livingstone is a vote for Blair’s Mayor and Labour policies on the Iraq War, tuition fees and Council Tax.”
Although the media have been following the candidates for many months the public are only now starting to consider their voting intentions.
Although Ken would like us to think the result is already clear, he knows the public join elections late in the process – otherwise he wouldn’t be publishing his manifesto a week before polling day.
Today’s appeal was little more than the starting pistol in what will be a close race.