Ken’s potty mouth is in action again, less than a month after the last time. Not content with comparing Boris Johnson’s chief of staff to a mass-murderer, Labour’s twinkly-eyed old charmer has now called the Lib Dems a “venal sub-species.” That’s according to Donal OHanlon, a Lib Dem councillor who was at a talk last week where Ken made the remark and thought it “crass and insulting.”
Oh dear. How the Lib-Dem vote breaks has always been of considerable importance in London mayoral elections. In 2004, the Lib Dem-leaning boroughs of Richmond, Kingston and Sutton cast their first preferences for Livingstone (presumably having concluded that their own candidate, Simon Hughes, stood no chance.) Ken won. In 2008, the same people voted for Boris, a significant factor in his victory. The mayor’s seven-point lead over Ken in the latest poll is also due, in part, to the support he attracts from Lib Dem voters.
For 2012, the Kenster has been trying to woo the two main potential Lib Dem mayoral nominees, in one of his elaborate attempts to do a deal for second preferences. “I welcome both Lembit Opik and Mike Tuffrey entering the race, alongside the Green candidate Jenny Jones,” he said the other week. “Whatever is happening nationally, Lib Dems in London have the opportunity to be part of a progressive vision for London.”
These deals – remember Ken’s 2008 pact with the Greens? – always seemed a bit silly to me, and rather typical of the great man’s machine approach. Ken’s share of second-preference votes actually fell in 2008, even though his first-preference share rose slightly. The idea that the Greens’ 2008 candidate, Sian Berry, could somehow order her voters how to cast their second preferences was fanciful, and doing so may have cost her votes. She looked like, and was, an appendage of the Labour campaign.
I’m sure neither Tuffrey nor Opik will make that mistake, not least because the Lib Dems are not – whatever Ken likes to think – a left-wing party. They are a centre party, whose voters come from both left and right, which is currently in coalition with a right-wing party. But Livingstone’s latest outburst will probably set the seal on it.