Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Why Boris will win on May 1st

With just two and a half weeks until the Mayoral election, it looks increasingly likely that Ken Livingstone's reign as Mayor of London will come to a bloody conclusion with defeat at the hands of Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson.

Livingstone's campaign looks increasingly desperate and with Labour in the doldrums, the support needed in the Inner Suburbs to hold back the Tory-voting Outer suburbs just isn't there. Conversely, the Conservatives are motivated in the Outer suburbs in a way they weren't in either 2000 or 2004.

I welcome the departure of Livingstone - the stench of corruption hangs heavy over City Hall along with the sense that Ken is "yesterday's man". That doesn't of course mean I welcome the election of Boris Johnson. I think Londoners will swiftly come to regret entrusting this highly-intelligent but deeply flawed individual to such an important job. I'm strongly of the view that Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat Mayoral candidate, is the best on offer and recent debates including both the Evening Standard debate and the Newsnight debate showed Paddick to be more than a match for Ken and Boris.

So why will Boris win ?

There are some obvious reasons: the loss of trust in Livingstone, the national decline in Labour and advance of the Conservatives which is especially strong in London and the simple argument that is "time for a change" but there is another, less obvious reason.

Livingstone is quite a dour, serious personality with seemingly little charm or charisma. There are times when these qualities are valuable - I thought one of Ken's finest hours was following the July 2005 terrorist attack - but in times of impending economic hardship when the right-wing press in particular are daily trumpetting a message of doom and gloom, I think people look for a less serious, lighter alternative.

Johnson provides less serious in spades. No one can blame him for the "credit crunch" but he will keep us entertained in the difficult times ahead. He will bumble around smiling and joking which will be an antidote if (as seems likely) a period of belt-tightening is in order.

Boris will win not because he's the best candidate - he isn't. He'll win because he has tapped into a mood music or zeitgeist. That mood says "things are bad, they're getting to get worse. We don't need a dour, sour-faced leader telling us how bad things are, we want someone to keep us entertained".

The problem with electing an entertainer is that there may be nothing other than the act. London faces some serious challenges in the next four years, not least in preparing for the 2012 Olympics. I remain deeply sceptical as to whether Boris is the man for the challenge. London is prepared to give him a chance - I wouldn't.

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