Ken Livingstone’s team is privately conceding this afternoon that it is all over – and that he may indeed have lost by more than last time. The two results already published suggest that they may be right.
In the final tally from Merton and Wandsworth, Boris’s lead is 17 points (51-34) compared with 10 points last time (46-36).
The final tally from Bexley and Bromley shows Boris leading Ken by 40 points (62-22), only fractionally down on last time (61-20).
These are solidly Tory areas, but it’s looking very bad for Ken, who would expect to see at least some swings here if he was going to win.
Health warning: there were big differences in how different parts of London swung at the last general election. It is, I suppose, just possible that high turnout in Ken-friendly areas plus a lot of Jones or Benita second preferences could pull it back for him. But it’s looking unlikely. If he does lose, it will, of course, be written up as a disaster for Labour. It would certainly be a catastrophic humiliation for Livingstone. But it could be the best thing that has ever happened for his party.
Ken sums up, in a single beige-suited package, absolutely everything that Labour must ditch if it is to become electable in the country again: sectarian identity politics, pandering to special interests rather than the general interest, wild and uncosted public spending. There can, indeed, be no clearer sign of the intellectual bankruptcy of tax-and-spend than the fact that Livingstone won’t subject himself to the high taxes he seeks for others.
For most of its life, the Labour Party was a coalition between the Mirror and the Guardian, Bevin and Crossman, industrial working class and metropolitan bourgeois. Its problem now is that the Guardian wing has come totally to dominate. More than a fifth of Labour’s members are in London, with its concentration of middle-class public-sector workers, though the capital is home to only a ninth of the country’s population.
Membership figures issued in 2010, the last to be broken down by constituency, show that Labour has substantially more members in Richmond Park — where it took just five per cent of the vote at the last general election — than in the Rhondda. It has five times as many members in Hampstead as in Hartlepool. It has more members in seven London boroughs than in the whole of Wales. Its presence in the suburban, middle-English swing seats it needs to win is skimpy.
The London middle-class left, of which Livingstone is the ultimate expression, has been the single most destructive force in Labour’s entire history, genetically programmed to detect the wishes of ordinary people and then do the opposite. It is substantially responsible for keeping the party out of power for the best part of the 1980s and 90s. The reason Boris Johnson won Dagenham, Redbridge, Croydon and Greenwich in 2008 – and, who knows, may do so again today – was that mainstream voters thought Livingstone was interested in everybody except them.
If Ken loses again this week, in a city where Labour is currently 19 per cent ahead in the polls, Labour will have no option but to face all these realities. There will be no excuses. That’s one of the reasons so many people in Labour wanted him to lose – and such people were, indeed, almost certainly the deciding factor in his likely defeat.