Centreground Political Communications

An open memo to Ken Livingstone

Written by on April 13th, 2012
Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London 2000-08 and L...

Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London 2000-08 and Leader of the GLC 1981-86. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To: Ken Livingstone


You and I have history. So your first thought on reading this memo maybe to ask why on Earth I am offering you advice on your campaign.  But in the end Labour blood is thicker than water. So, I want to help you win your election and right now I fear you are heading for a loss. But it does not have to be this way. We are barely half way through the “short campaign” and I genuinely believe you can go on to win. But only if you demonstrate some real political ruthlessness and have the courage to fundamentally change the way you and your campaign have operated.


Firstly, clear the decks. You have to end the ridiculous dispute on how much tax you have paid. You can only do that in one way – by stating it is over and attacking anyone who says it is not. Both are legitimate things to say: you have paid all the tax that was due and anyone focusing on this issue is doing so because they do not want to focus on what matters – transport and crime. You might have to fight the media on this one. But, so what? The Standard, in particular, need to know they could damage their brand if they revert to the bad old days. So let them know.


Secondly, get new political managers. Plainly the people running the politics of your campaign have messed up. Maybe that mess up was because they did not account for your mistakes, but that does not lessen their responsibility. You need new sources of advice and people who will keep you focused on the issues that matter – transport and crime.


Thirdly, focus on the issues that matter. And for London what matters, in the sense that the mayor can do something about them, are transport and crime. You need simple clear policies on both. I have some sense of what your transport policy is but none at all on crime. And saying you will not cut police numbers is not enough – what criminals are you going to target, what crimes will you home in on? Give Londoners a sense of where you will make a difference.


Fourthly, abandon the core vote strategy you have followed. The fundamental thing to remember is that it will not work. You need to get into the peripheral estates of east, south east and north east London too – mobilising white working class voters and suburbanites struggling with rising transport costs and fearing crime. You have won the inner city already but may be falling further behind in the suburbs: further even than in 2008 when your failure there cost you the election.  Now, I know your campaign team will say they are working hard in this “doughnut”, but nobody has heard that yet: so what are you going to do about it? Think of the breakthrough announcement you can make that will reach into the suburbs as never before.


Fifth, ease off the paranoia and turn up the love. Too much energy in your campaign has been devoted to the prospect of “betrayal” by Labour supporters voting for someone else: latterly Siobhain Bonita, the independent. Bonita is running a smart campaign despite having no resources. She has impressed. But why would you fear her? Her supporters are just like anyone else – people with a second preference. Show some love for her, perhaps by saying she should get on to the debate platforms too. She’s not going to win, but if you can get her supporters to “come home” to Labour, you still can. And tell your supporters to end the sneering attacks on perceived internal enemies, it’s a distraction and a dangerous one.


Sixth, admit you have made mistakes. This is the hardest thing for any politician but is probably the most important of all. Do not kid yourself that admitting mistakes would be a weakness: people know you have made them and they would welcome the page being turned. The elephant in the room here is that while people know you can do the job, a lot of voters think that you have not been willing to adapt to new circumstances. Showing that you have learned from the past is what can breakthrough to the voters you lost between 2004 and 2008 and 2008 and now, and also turn the spotlight back on to Boris Johnson.


Boris Johnson is the Tories biggest weakness. Not because of his tax affairs or his colourful private life. But because he is a poor mayor, not least in comparison to you.


Yet the Tories have played their hand well and have kept the focus on you. But in the end they are hoping to bluff their way to victory. To change that you will have to show you have changed. There is still time to get on with it.


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