29/03/2012 09:41 BST | Updated 29/03/2012 10:15 BST

Ken Livingstone Apologises For Jewish Comments - But Is It Too Late?

I was talking to some Labour people who work in parliament the other day. They were young David Miliband supporters - but not members of his staff in any way - who really dislike Ken Livingstone, and want him to lose the election.

"Not just lose," one told me, "But get an absolute kicking." Their attitude is that the Mayoral election is lost anyway, so they might as well salvage something from the defeat by making sure that Ken Livingstone is so badly trounced that he is booted out of politics, never to return.

This is not a view you hear all the time (alcohol helped in this case, as with so many), but it does reflect a war-gaming scenario which has become more talked about in private over recent days, the idea that Labour have basically lost the election and it's a question now of looking beyond that and focusing on the council and London Assembly seats instead.

Because their fear is that good assembly members and councillors are going to lose their seats because of Ken's comments about Jews and his tax affairs. And the banter from these Labour workers reflects a concern that Ken's only chance of winning is by getting activists out on the streets to leaflet and knock on doors. Some of these people simply do not want to do this for their candidate.

It's a view that's not shared by high profile supporter Eddie Izzard who claims to have seen "urgency and passion behind the support for him [Livingstone] on the streets".

And amid fears that his comments about Jews - where he said they were too rich to vote for him - have caused serious damage to the campaign, on Thursday morning Ken published a piece in the Jewish Chronicle, which contained a sort-of apology.

Ken writes:

I didn't actually say this. However, I can see that the way the conversation unfolded meant this interpretation was placed on it.

When such controversies unfold it is easy to get dug in and appear to defend positions. I don't wish to do this. Jewish voters are not one homogeneous block. A 2010 report for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research shows the range of Jewish voting preference. In North London Labour was the preferred party, for example.

If I believed that Jewish people won't vote Labour in this election, and I did not value the opinions and concerns of Jewish Londoners, I would not have spent my evening at that meeting.

It certainly looks bad - Ken was trailing Boris by eight points in the most recent poll, that would produce a result even worse than the 2008 contest.

But some people are less complacent. Right-wing bloggers are continuing their almost monomaniacal campaign against Livingstone, with videos like this one, which popped up earlier this week, appearing all the time:

Tory strategists are also not taking any chances. They are worried about low turnout causing Ken to inflict a small, but shocking win over Boris. Turnout in 2008 was 45%, and some Tories worry it could be as low as 38 or 39 in this election, which could easily favour Ken.

Livingstone's been given a small but helpful boost by Jenny Jones, the Green candidate, who has told her supporters to vote Ken on second preference. That had always been expected - Jones viscerally dislikes Boris and sees him as a do-nothing Mayor.

A Tory strategist who has looked closely at the contest tells me that the latest poll is viewed as a blip. "And if it wasn't a blip then the handling of pasties and petrol have made it a blip, anyway.

"There are number of differences between this election and the one four years ago. Incumbency is an advantage for Boris, there were a lot of people who were scared of having him as Mayor. That fear has gone.

"We had the most racially divided contest in 2008 because there were accusations that Boris was racist, and it's become clear that he isn't. But working against Boris and in favour of Ken is the constant change in the electorate, which what Americans call White Flight. London is growing, but it's becoming more culturally diverse. And while Boris has proved he's not racist, he hasn't really made inroads into those new communities."

This strategist thinks that the margins at the moment are only 2 or 3 percent between Ken and Boris, and that if the Labour lead in the national poll continues, and the Tory cabinet continues to have problems, things could be even closer.

At the moment things are going to go into limbo nationally as politicians head off for Easter recess. But Ken and Boris will remain busy, with various hustings taking place. The message from both parties is; don't believe the opinion polls, the reality is much more subtle, and potentially volatile.