Barely a week to go before the polls open in the 2012 London Mayoral election and the race has tightened appreciably. A fortnight or so ago, incumbent Boris Johnson looked to the cruising with a 53-47 lead over main challenger Ken Livingstone but the recent travails of the Government have damaged even the normally teflon-coated Johnson as have some lacklustre performances in televised debates.
Last Monday's YouGov poll in the Evening Standard had Boris ahead just 51-49 and a lead on first preferences cut from five points (45-40) to just two (43-41). it's probably fair to say that were there almost any other Tory facing almost any other Labour candidate, the Labour candidate would be miles ahead but this is London and we are dealing with Boris and Ken.
There's plenty of evidence neither man has inspired Londoners and both are generally held in contempt by large parts of the electorate but the logic is simple. If you dislike Ken more, you have to vote for Boris - if you dislike Boris more, you vote for Ken.
The London Mayoral election isn't of course a simple FPTP contest - Londoners have two votes and the second preferences of those voting for neither Boris nor Ken may yet prove significant. There are 16% of voting Londoners (one sixth) who will NOT be voting for either Boris or Ken and under the electoral system - because their first preference candidate will be eliminated, their second preference votes will be counted.
Of the block of 16% or so, we have Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat candidate, who is polling at 8-9%, Jenny Jones, the Green Party candidate at about 2%, Siobhan Benita, an Independent, at 3% and the UKIP and BNP candidates again at about 3% between them.
It seems probable that the Green Party votes will overwhelmingly support Livingstone as second preference as will those voting for Siobhan Benita while the UKIP and BNP voters will probably (though not certainly) give a second preference to Boris Johnson.
That leaves the Paddick vote as critical - in 2008, Paddick's supporters voted strongly (about two to one if memory serves) for Boris Johnson over Ken Livingstone but, despite the presence of Liberal Democrats in Coalition with the Conservatives, this time it's far less clear. IF it's nearer to 50/50 or possibly even 55/45 for Livingstone, Boris will lose and the political ramifications of that will be enormous (as indeed they will be if he wins).
So what is a Paddick supporter like me to do?
To be honest, I would rather entrust my john thomas to a psychopath with a rusty blade than vote for Boris Johnson and I would rather put my head in a bucketful of scorpions than vote for Ken Livingstone. I could waste my vote as I did in 2008 when I didn't give anyone my second preference (though I would give that to Siobhan Benita this time).
However, this time it counts and it's been a while since my vote counted (East Ham voted 70% Labour in 2010 and Newham has 60 Labour Councillors and no Opposition) so what am I to do?
I am open to persuasion - Ken has made a good pitch on fares - I pay over £200 a month for an all zones travelcard which is a lot when my salary has been frozen for three years and any relief on that would be welcome. Even though I live in the Olympic Borough of Newham, I don't see any great benefit accruing to me from the Olympics as a whole. In short, I ask the question - what will the Olympics do for me apart from disrupt my travel for a couple of weeks? The long-term legacy is far from clear.
Boris has done very little to my mind in the past four years - true, the London Mayoralty has quite limited powers but he has taken control of transport and the Police for himself and is clearly marketting himself to the Conservative Party as the leader post-Cameron. I get no sense he really understands what is happening in areas like East Ham as a result of widescale immigration and the social consequences of the recession. Look at the crowds of young men (often Romanian or Tamil) who crowd outside the numerous betting shops which have been allowed to proliferate in the High Street.
Yet I don't like Ken's politics - it's hard to forget the left-wing extravagances of his youth and I don't want the Mayoralty to be in a continual cockfight with the Government.
Neither man inspires me at all yet I have a chance to have a real say and decide the next four years of our Capital's history.
It's a dilemma...