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Ken Livingstone's Mayoral Election Campaign Launch - A Journey Into Emotion And Nostalgia

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Ken Livingstone had an emotional campaign launch, | Getty Images

The setting for Ken Livingstone's formal Mayoral election launch on Wednesday was a swanky further education college in Greenwich, shining on a gorgeous spring morning. About 30 people came, compared with Boris' almost American-style rally of around 250 the previous day.

So smaller on numbers but it certainly felt a lot more urban and modern than Boris' launch on Tuesday in a Richmond church.

Bit risky though, given the Greenwich college is literally next to the building formerly known as the Millennium Dome.

This was a bemusing choice for a candidate trying to overcome accusations of erstwhile waste and spendthrift from Boris - but then again the Dome is now called the O2 and has been a success, ultimately.

Another risk taken on Wednesday was the decision to bring Ed Miliband along for the launch. The Labour leader arrived looking nervous, and well he might. His party's current national poll lead over the Tories of eight points is a relatively new thing, and as the Bradford West meltdown showed, an uneven one.

Contrast that with Ken, who now has lower approval ratings than his party and who trails Boris by between four and six points, according to polls out this week.

Ken's campaign chairman Tessa Jowell opened proceedings. Jowell remains a trooper, all smiles and shiny eyed, far more cheerful looking than either Miliband or Ken, who quite frankly looks knackered.

"We've got Ed Miliband, Ken Livingstone, his running mate Val Shawcross and me," Jowell trills. "So it's a cast of ..er.. many," she finished, a bit unsteadily.

"We have a very clear choice," she said. "A Tory mayor who goes big on celebrity, and Ken Livingstone, our Mayor, our Labour Mayor."

Ken then made some opening remarks, which set the theme for the morning - nostalgia. "I remember growing up in this city when my parents had to count every penny. And that's the world we're living in again," he said.

"For those of you who want grand projects, that's fine, we will start working on those, but Labour will first cut fares," Ken concluded before working his way around the room, where people were sitting around tables with laptops, working out for themselves using an online calculator how much they'd save under Ken.

Turns out it's quite a lot. One man in his late twenties who's earning £20,000 a year would be £6,000 better off over the four gears of Ken's term apparently. One young guy who looked about twenty is going to save £4,700. Most of it's in reduced transport fares, which Ken will slash within weeks of being re-elected.

A woman from east London is told by the calculator: "Your household can save an average total of £6,036." Hang on a second, what's an "average total"? Is it Ken's strange accounting spoonerisms in action again?

It's all about the restoration in Educational Maintenance Allowance in one teenage girl's case - although she looked slightly perturbed when Ken sat down next to her, sort of like one of the children in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang when the child catcher appears. She warmed up a bit once she found out Ken's going to save her £1,480 to help support herself through college, but there is an air of, at best, toleration from some of those who've been brought to the table.

The conversation with one lady quickly moved away from saving money and onto children's toys. Ken tried to steer the conversation back to austerity but somehow gets lost once again in nostalgia, saying how toys "don't last that long these days."

Another man wanted to know what Ken will do for the pub trade, because London pubs are suffering. Ken didn't have many answers except to say that the big mega brewery companies are evil and how he used to go to the pubs when he was young every Friday and Saturday night "for a singalong" but that's all gone, now. Ken then moved on to another table, but people seem kind of dumbstruck by this last answer. Exactly how old is Ken? 100? It sounds like he grew up in Dickensian London.

One woman said she found getting around East London tricky because there are no river crossings. Ken uses this as a springboard to attack the Emirates cable car being built not far away. "Already this caaaable caaar is the most expensive in human history," he says, laconically, before claiming that the bike hire scheme was much cheaper (Bikes not so good on water, though, Ken).

Ken quietly tells one woman that Boris is unfocussed, delegating everything, uninterested in the details of things. "I love detail," insists Ken, though anyone looking at his tax declaration last week might beg to differ.

People genuinely like Ed Miliband though, who seems to turn into a different person when planted among civilians. Smiling, chatty, from all appearances honestly concerned about people struggling to pay their bills. But he greeted some of these "real people" with a degree of recognition - as they did him. Have these people previously met somewhere else, perhaps?

After mingling with the "real people" who are increasingly suspected as being party activists, Ken, Ed and Tessa returned to the front of the room for some more remarks.

"With Boris this is just a stepping stone to the Tory leadership," says Ken. "He doesn't want to take any risks. I have no desire to lead the Labour party," he adds, causing Ed Miliband, standing next to Livingstone, to laugh rather hysterically.

The audience is then shown Ken's election broadcast, which is fried gold. It's dominated by a clunky stereotype of just about every ethnic minority Ken's managed to offend so far in the campaign, including a man so obviously, stereotypically Jewish one suspects it's an actor. It's only surprising that they didn't wheel out a drag queen, so the gays were more obviously represented.

"Come on Ken we know you can do it," each one of them says, before Ken returns to the screen, saying: "Thanks, London, I couldn't have put it better myself."

Ken Livingstone started crying after the video was shown, later telling journalists the tears were due to the "responsibility" of the office he wants to recapture. Ed Miliband is said to have comforted Ken afterward by patting him on the back.

The contrast between Ken's launch and Boris' the day before couldn't be starker. Boris was intentionally funny, whereas Ken was amusing but perhaps for the wrong reasons.

That said, Boris' presidential style rally on Tuesday had a whiff of arrogance, whereas Ken's was tinged with realism on two fronts; Realism in acknowledging there's a side to London which is poor, not getting any less poor and struggling, but another realism in acknowledging Ken's campaign to get City Hall back is also struggling, and that Labour has a lot of catching up to do over the next three weeks.

Around the Web

Ken Livingstone - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Ken Livingstone | The Guardian

Ken Livingstone | Facebook

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