Ken Livingstone: trust is his key weakness

Boris Johnson is back in the lead in the latest YouGov mayoral poll in today’s Standard – but by only two points, within the margin of error. On the basis of the last three polls, the race remains neck-and-neck.

What has halted Ken’s momentum? Two things: after weeks in which Labour was given the pitch to itself, Team Boris has finally started to campaign, a bit. This suggests that when they start to campaign properly they might be able to open up a clearer lead.

The second is what has always been Ken’s greatest weakness: trust. In 2008, as now, he outpolled Boris on such questions as being “in touch.” As now, he had the more popular policies on nearly all the issues.  But he still lost, because voters thought he was less honest than Boris.

Today’s poll shows that only 44 per cent trust Ken to deliver his key campaign pledge, a 7 per cent fares cut (hard to blame them, given his track record). Forty per cent say he wouldn’t do it. Since the previous poll on this subject (by a different pollster, so not strictly comparable) the large number of don’t knows has fallen sharply, breaking more against Ken than in his favour. As memories of January’s fare rise fade, has he shot his bolt?

Here are some other insights from the detail of the poll.

1. Ken is doing quite well in outer London. On the “forced-choice” question, excluding don’t knows, he is only four points behind Boris, 48-52, quite a lot closer than in the past. I hear that the Ken campaign has been heavily phone-canvassing in the outer boroughs – it seems to be bearing fruit.

2. Ken’s touching belief that voters remember his mayoralty as a golden age of competence and effectiveness, compared with the slide into social collapse under Boris, is wrong. Fifty-nine per cent think Boris is doing his job well – a key finding – and 35 per cent think he is doing it badly (a positive of +24 points.) The comparable figures for Ken’s mayoralty are 55-36 (a positive of +19.)

3. Boris has recovered a good chunk of the “Boris Labour” support he had – that is, people who voted Labour at the 2010 general election, or intend to vote Labour at the next one, but will vote for him in May. Twenty-one per cent of those who say they voted Labour in 2010 will vote for him (up from 17% last month; in June 2011 it was 23%). Sixteen per cent of those who currently back Labour for Westminster will vote for Boris (up from 11% last month; in June 2011 it was 21%.)

4. Ken’s vote seems a bit softer than Boris’s. Twelve per cent of Ken voters said there was a fair chance that they would switch to Johnson and a further one per cent said there was a good chance they would switch. Only ten per cent of Boris voters said there was a fair chance they would switch to Ken; none said there was a good chance.

5. Ken’s links with the Tube unions are a weakness. Fifty per cent of voters agree with the statement that “Ken Livingstone’s financial backing from unions compromises his ability to run TfL,” against 32 per cent disagree. Disapproval of Boris’s support for the City is substantially less.

6. Ken still lags massively behind his party, which is 12 points ahead of the Tories in London. How Labour must be kicking itself for choosing him – if they had picked someone else, the election might be essentially over by now.

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