Centreground Political Communications

Further reflections on the London mayoral result

Written by on May 7th, 2012

Every British poll since 1997 has been billed as the “first internet election” but the 2012 London mayoral contest might have the best claim yet.

 

The decisive factor in the result was the voters’ assessment of the characters of the candidates. Even after 12 years many in the UK political establishment find it difficult to concede that the mayoral election is entirely about personality, and the entirety of personality, or if they, do, they dismiss this as if it diminishes the validity of the result. But the personality of the candidates reflect the vision, motivation and values of those who stand behind the candidate almost as much as the candidates themselves.

 

Ken Livingstone was weighed in the balance here and found wanting. But what made this election different was the ways in which the voters discovered the information that allowed them to make the decision.

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 04:  Boris Johnson (R) s...

LONDON, ENGLAND - MAY 04: Boris Johnson (R) speaks after the announcement of his victory in the London Mayoral elections as as Ken Livingstone (C) talks with Liberal Democrat Candidate Brian Paddick (L)at City Hall on May 4, 2012 in London, England. Conservative Mayor Mr Johnson won a second term as London Mayor after a close run election campaign with Labour's Ken Livingstone coming second in the polls. (Image credit: Getty Images via @daylife)

 

One of Livingstone’s biggest handicaps was the long lingering tale of his tax affairs. That Livingstone did not kill the story – after all nobody seriously suggested he did anything other than pay all the tax he was required to – showed his campaign to be, at heart, incompetent and he personally to be of limited political capacity – as he kept promising to publish figures which never appeared in a full and accurate form.

 

But credit must also go to the Tories and their campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, for the way they kept the story running. Their attack website kept churning out material that kept the embers aglow between the times when mass media covered the story and, bizarrely, Livingstone’s response to this was to close his attack site down, as though his opponents would be morally obliged to follow suit.

 

The Tories showed they understand that the best political attacks are not those loved of Gordon Brown – that the beans do not add up – but those which reveal a deeper moral or political truth about opponents and their values.

 

Crosby came to Britain from Australia in 2005 and ran the Conservative election campaign that year. He appeared in London with a reputation of being one of the nastiest operators Down Under and he certainly misjudged the UK campaign quite badly – getting Michael Howard to bang on about immigration to the point where many voters were frightened away from what they saw as something that edged towards monomaniacal extremism.

 

Now, though, he seems to have learned to leaven the nasty stuff with humour. Some Tories want him to be placed in charge of the Conservatives’ re-election campaign. Labour should be worried.

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