Boris Johnson: how he could lose

There’s more good news for Boris today in the latest mayoral opinion poll – the first public one in almost six months – which shows him maintaining his big lead over Ken Livingstone. He is ahead by eight points – 48 per cent to 40 – on first preferences (of those certain to vote) and leads by the same margin – 54-46 – once second preferences are included.

Compared with the previous poll by the same pollster, ComRes, in March (they also did one in September, but not of a representative sample) Ken has dropped by six points on first prefs and Boris is up by four. The March ComRes actually had Ken ahead, by 46-44 in first preferences and 51-49 after second preferences were included.

Since then, of course, Ken has melted down in the riots, compared Boris’s chief of staff to a mass murderer and Boris himself to Hitler, called for Tories to “burn in hell for all eternity” and asked whether George Osborne should be hanged. He has toe-curlingly outed himself as Britain’s most famous sperm donor and the head of the London Labour Party has said that he cannot win. Just like YouGov, which put Boris seven points ahead in June, this latest poll seems to show that the more people see of Ken, the more they dislike him.

Today’s is also the first poll since Livingstone started claiming, in September, that he would cut fares if elected. Ken will be desperately disappointed that what he called “an announcement that is going to shape the election campaign” has in two months made so little impact. This must have something to do with his past record of breaking his promises on fares.

These are really bad numbers for Ken at a time when Labour for Westminster is six or seven points ahead of the Tories nationally and (in the June YouGov) 19 points ahead in London.

Yet there is also a danger for Boris. The two key risks to his re-election are that the economy tanks and that his supporters become complacent. There is also the much smaller risk that Labour could dump Ken. All these dangers are now growing.

Today’s poll shows that transport, as many people including me have been saying for months, is indeed Boris’s Achilles heel. Fares cuts are clearly popular and it’s not impossible that Ken could start to score on this issue, even if he hasn’t yet. Boris still can’t quite seem to eradicate the hangover of Livingstonism that lingers at TfL.

I went to Boris’s book launch earlier this month. It was held on the night of the big student demo. If that demo had turned into a riot, what would it have looked like, I wonder, if at the same time the mayor had been pictured eating canapés to promote something for which he has already been accused of neglecting the day job?

Incumbents lose when they get too wrapped up in the adulatory and administrative aspects of the job and forget the politics.

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