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June 29, 2011

Livingstone “is coming across as tired and grouchy”.

I’ve only just stumbled across this article by Andrew Neather from last Friday’s Evening Standard. Neather says Ken Livingstone’s campaign is already stalling – he is losing support, making enemies, campaigning very negatively, looking “bloody miserable” and “coming across as tired and grouchy”. I’ve re-posted the article in full:

Time was when Ken Livingstone was the irrepressible cheeky chappie of London politics. Crazy, huh? He’s been cutting a dour figure of late. And that mood is unlikely to be improved by this week’s YouGov poll putting Boris Johnson seven points ahead of him.

The real problem for Livingstone is that while Labour are well ahead in London, more than one in five people who say they would vote for them in a general election told pollsters they intend to vote for Johnson. It won’t escape Team Ken that YouGov most accurately predicted the 2008 result.

The stakes could scarcely be higher. The mayoral race is already national news in a way the previous contests never were. This week the Prime Minister was reported to have told Johnson, “I recognise that there is no way you losing would be seen as anything but a disaster for me.” Quite so. Likewise for a shaky-looking Ed Miliband, it will be a significant setback if Johnson is still pedalling down to City Hall next May 4.

Yet Livingstone’s campaign gives the impression of stalling already. Polls suggest he has lost support over the past few months.

So why don’t those Labour voters like Ken? As in 2008, he is coming across as tired and grouchy – and still resentful over his last defeat. By contrast, one of Johnson’s great skills as Mayor has been his ability to project optimism and good humour. He tends not to make enemies, even among political opponents. Livingstone makes plenty.

Ken has woken up to the fact that he needs to campaign in the outer boroughs, whose voters Johnson so assiduously targeted in 2008. How effective he’s proving is less certain. One Labour activist in Croydon tells me that when Livingstone arrived to campaign there, “he looked bloody miserable”.

Meanwhile, his “Tell Ken” meetings focus largely on national politics. His campaign is banking on the cuts hitting hard by next spring. He could be right: Johnson is well aware of the risks of being associated with an unpopular Tory government. Yet the Mayor’s challenges to ministers on issues such as the immigration crackdown and the housing benefit cap have come across as being made in London’s interests.

Perhaps more important, Labour’s strategy of hoping that painful cuts and hatred of the Tories drive people to vote Ken isn’t very, well, positive.

Livingstone’s great strength as Mayor was that he made the mayoralty in his own image: a big man for a big city. It is a model that, as in New York, can cut across traditional party ties: witness Democrats’ support for Republican mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg. That sort of slippage worked in Livingstone’s favour in 2000 and 2004. Now he must hope that Johnson hasn’t pulled off the same trick against him.

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