Boris Johnson: time for some campaigning?

Ken Livingstone has taken a 2 per cent lead over Boris Johnson in a new YouGov mayoral poll, effectively “neck and neck,” according to YouGov’s Peter Kellner. Ken remains far behind the Labour party – which is 15 per cent ahead of the Tories in London – and Boris remains far ahead of the Tory party. But the gap is closing. Particularly interesting is that Ken’s standing appears to have risen at a time when the standing of Labour as a whole, beset with leadership speculation, has fallen slightly.

YouGov has tended, on average, to show the City Hall race closer than other pollsters. But it has a record of reliability in mayoral elections – it predicted the outcome of the last one almost exactly right.

The poll was taken in a period when Ken has been highly visible, campaigning on his claim that he will cut fares by 7 per cent – a pledge which even he has twice said that he cannot afford. But as I wrote after the last poll (from a different pollster) which showed Ken 8 points behind, “fares cuts are clearly popular and it is not impossible that Ken could start to score on this issue.”

I feel fairly sure, however, that the fares pledge can be used against Ken to illustrate what this poll shows is still his key weakness: his dishonesty.  At every mayoral election he has ever fought, Ken has promised to hold down fares, but has done (or secretly planned to do) the opposite once safely elected. Despite calling Boris, with characteristic charm, a “pickpocket,” Ken’s record shows he increased fares by almost exactly the same amounts – and without even the excuse of falling government grants and a big investment programme to fund.

It’s a strong case. But to make it, you need to be in the market – and both Boris and the Tories have been conspicuously absent from it in recent weeks. Their rebuttal operation is, as I’ve also written, useless. Readers of this blog aside, the only thing most voters have been hearing recently is Ken’s lies.

From Boris’s point of view, the only benefit of this poll is that it will reduce the biggest danger to his re-election: complacency among his supporters. As the New Statesman’s Rafael Behr wrote two weeks ago, it was “hard to overstate how firm the consensus in Westminster is that Boris will prevail.” On both sides of the political divide, it was believed that the election was over. Before Christmas, one top Boris person claimed that they wanted a few polls like this to ginger up the support. Whether they actually feel the same way this afternoon, though, is a moot point. Meanwhile, the excitement of the various Ken groupies at their water in the desert is touching to behold.

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