Arguably the most high-profile election of 2012 will be the London Mayoral vote. Will it be a captivating clash of the titans between Boris Johnson and Ken Livingstone, or is it just a tired re-run of 2008 which will be largely ignored? Will the issues facing the capital get a proper airing, or will the election just become a personality-led campaign?
Even though it only truly affects London and the South East of England, many expect the Mayoral election to throw up national issues, and be influenced by them. Ken Livingstone told HuffPost UK: “This is the biggest vote this side of the general election, and some issues of national politics will impact on how many people vote. For example, if you are a student living in London this is your first opportunity to vote against the Conservative party since the government’s attack over student fees and EMA.”
However some worry that this year’s campaign could become a personality-led one, with Boris Johnson taking centre stage. Matthew Flinders, politics professor at the University of Sheffield, argued: “Boris Johnson is always someone the media can rely on for a story, but behind his fluffy blonde hair is a sharp political actor.”
“It is Boris’s election to lose, and the problem with Boris is that he is unpredictable and it only takes one of his slips of the tongue to bring everything crashing down around him,” he said.
The Green Party's candidate this year, Jenny Jones, hopes that the vote in 2012 is about politics and not personalities. “Certain outlets are definitely less likely to cover issue-driven politics as they think this isn’t what people want to read about. I don’t think this is fair, however; I’ve visited hundreds of organisations, businesses, charities and community representatives and spoken to thousands of Londoners over the last few years who really are looking for significant change in the city.”
Even though recent polls suggest Johnson enjoys a double-digit lead over Livingstone, many believe the election race will end up being much closer. Tony Travers, the Director of the Greater London Group at LSE, told us: “Any election with Ken Livingstone will be bitterly-fought. It will be another fight to the death.”
“It’s a complete re-run on 2008, which is pretty unusual, that would push in a direction of a lower turnout. Having said that, Boris versus Ken is a highly stylised contest which makes Punch and Judy seem moderate, so I expect a turnout nearer 40% rather than 35%,”
Travers believes that the mayoral elections are important, but not just to Londoners: “There's no doubt that there's an increasing disparity in terms of wealth per head between London and the rest of the UK. The election will remind people how dominant London is in British political life.”
Michael Flinders at Sheffield University agrees: “The United Kingdom is London-centric and the south east is where most of the money is raised. It is where the economy is still dynamic. If London catches a cold then the rest of the country will get a bad case of flu, what matters here matters to the whole country.”
If nothing else the Mayoral contest will give the political parties some indication of the way people are voting. Danny Dorling, professor of human geography at the University of Sheffield, said: “The key thing about an election is that they are more solid than opinion polls. London contains a lot of swing areas and swing people, traditionally London has gone with the party that has tended to win power nationally.”
Can Ken win the election from Boris? It seems he has a mountain to climb. But Mark Ferguson from the influential blog Labour List told HuffPost things would change quite rapidly once the campaign began in earnest.
“I’d say it’s a tough contest. If it’s an air war, it’ll be tough, but if it’s a ground war, which it will be, then he’s got a chance of winning. He’s talking about housing, he’s talked about transport. The messaging is fine. The problem is, if I were Ken, I’d want to be thinking a bit more about presentation.
“Ken has made mistakes in the past, and he needs to admit that, so the public doesn’t think they’ll get the same person they got before. Londoners need to see an improved Ken Livingstone.”