Did Labour choose the wrong man for London mayor?

I was welcomed home on Thursday by the Evening Standard headline: “Final Poll Puts Boris Ahead”. So desperate was (and is) my anti-Boris sentiment that I had returned home to cast my ballot, and, as much as I would have liked to have dismissed the Standard’s headline as smug and biased, their actual stats were unobjectionable (yougov).

So I walked to the polling station with a heavy-heart. And couldn’t help but wonder whether, about two years ago, whilst deliberating between Miliband brothers, I had made a mistake in drawing an X by Ken Livingstone’s name in the Labour Party internal elections for mayoral candidate. A Labour-supporter in terms of pragmatism as well as politics, I began to suspect myself guilty of having let my nostalgia for the man who gave London Oystercards, the Olympics and – ironically enough – Boris Bikes, overcome my greater, more fundamental desire for a Labour mayoral candidate who could defeat Boris at the polls. In short – at a time when all eyes were on the leadership race, did Labour choose the wrong man to run for mayor?

Consider the evidence. A Tory win in London, albeit slim (Boris won by just under 3%), defied the the national trend, which saw the Conservatives lose 10 councils and Labour gain 22. More tellingly however, it defied the the voting trend shown in London; in whose Assembly of 25 Labour gained 4 members, bringing their total members to 12, and the Conservatives lost 2, bringing their total to 9.

At this point I would like to emphasise that  that the ballot papers for Mayor and Assembly Members were handed to voters at the same time – quite possibly stapled together – meaning that in London many people (assuming they filled out both parts) voting Labour for Assembly did not vote Labour for Mayor. In fact enough people voting Labour chose not to vote Ken to keep Boris Johnson, the Eton-educated millionaire who once called his £250,000 earnings from The Spectator “chicken-feed” and whose greatest achievement after four years is designing a bus, in office.

We are mid-recession, the coalition has just released a massively unpopular budget whose effects will be deeply felt in London. Surely it should not have been this hard.

The difference of course is that the London Mayoral election is about personality more than it is about party. Being mayor is a presidential-style job where the whole of an 8 million person city have some (superficial) understanding of who you are and what you’re like. It used to be ‘Red Ken’, and then it was just ‘Boris’ – of ‘wiff waff’ and Boris Bikes. Before the elections all intelligible personality traits reported of Ken seemed to be his machismo and a certain some dodginess regarding his taxes – and I gathered this from reading The Guardian. Oona King was the alternative – ousted from her Bethnal Green constituency in 2005 by George Galloway for siding with Blair over Iraq she seemed a distasteful choice.

On the Oxford Tube home I read an article suggesting that, had the Labour staggered its internal elections so that the Mayoral candidate was decided after the Leader, David Miliband might have thrown his hat into the ring. Once again my heart sank. Of course, Boris won.

CARTOON/Jakob Rowlinson