Earlier this week Boris Johnson’s campaign launched a new website devoted to highlighting what critics, if they were being polite, might call Ken Livingstone’s less attractive qualities.
Topics include Livingstone’s “30 year” pursuit to “control London”, his links to South American regimes and his rightly criticised work for an Iranian TV channel.
Though the site authors seem to think their round-ups of the worst of Ken is exciting stuff, to be honest it’s all pretty familiar and has been better reported elsewhere – see the blogroll for more London news sites.
Will it have much impact? I suspect not, most Londoners made their minds up about Ken a long time ago.
Are any voters unmoved in 2004 or 2008 by Ken’s dealings with questionable regimes likely to recoil in horror and not vote for him in 2012 over the same issue?
Not shy of uttering the odd uncomplimentary word about opponents, Team Ken were quick to claim the launch of a “negative” site showed Boris was “worried” about his chances next year.
I’m not sure I go along with that, Ken has hardly set the agenda since being selected as Labour’s candidate last summer and although some polls show him doing ok, he’s far from a shoo-in.
Despite this, there has been a change in rhetoric from some of those around the Mayor.
Last summer one senior member of Team Boris openly mocked the idea of Livingstone running again, suggesting he’d be a walk over. In recent weeks that same person told me it would be dangerous to underestimate his chances.
Personally if I were a gambling man I’d be putting my money on a second term for Boris – incumbency is a powerful benefit for any candidate.
Back to Boris’s new site, it’s fair to remember negativity in Mayoral elections is nothing new.
The legendary nastiness of the 2000 campaign – especially Labour’s internal cat fight – was so vast there’s not space here to do it justice.
In 2004 LibDem Simon Hughes got embroiled in a ‘dirty tricks’ row when he was accused of using a campaign newspaper to link Tory candidate Steve Norris to the Potters Bar train crash.
More recently, the 2008 campaign saw a concerted effort by Livingstone supporters to portray Johnson as a racist. It was a low blow which ultimately did their man no good and, as in 2004, only served to make the accuser look pretty desperate.
As I mentioned above, thats also the line team Ken’s taking with Boris’s new site. It may be worth them reflecting on the fact that the appearance of desperation in the examples above grew organically, not through denouncements from the victim of the attacks.
I think the website poses a different, and potentially more dangerous, risk to Boris – it contradicts the impression most Londoners have of him.
While City Hall politicians and observers know the Mayor enjoys a bit of rough politics, mocking and patronising Assembly Members and getting into spats with certain Labour AMs, most voters tend to think of him as jovial and fluffy.
Boris’s so-called ‘game show persona’ is a powerful asset for him.
Tarnishing that with an “attack site” risks scaring away those voters who don’t automatically vote Tory or who see Boris as a different kind of politician.
I suspect the clever people around him already know this, hence the lack of an obvious link to the anti-Ken site from the main Back Boris campaign site and, other than in the imprint, no mention of Boris or his re-election campaign on notkenagain.com.
In my naivety I’d hoped the build-up to next year’s election would be spent with both Ken and Boris rallying Londoners to their cause with big, exciting, set piece announcements and ideas for London’s future.
Instead it looks like we’re in for another 14 months of rehashing the past election, insults, swipes and accusations – exactly the sort of behaviour which repels voters and threatens to depress turn-out.
London is a modern, forward-looking city, lived in by passionate, articulate and highly intelligent people who care about where their city is heading. Could we not, just for once, have a campaign which reflects that?