Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Ken Livingstone- what's the right strategy?

According to a PoliticsHome panel of experts Livingstone should project himself as a 'competent CEO', portray Boris Johnson as a clown, give jobs to the Lib Dem and Green candidates and avoid Gordon Brown and Labour.

Maybe the PoliticsHome strategy by a committee of 100 experts methodology is flawed. But I don't think that's a winning strategy at all.

Ken's personality (and, let's be honest, his flaws) means that any attempt to project himself as boring, straight down the line corporate boss will unravel fairly quickly. If he is drawing attention to Boris Johnson's colourful personality at the same time it will only make his new persona seem even stranger and could well benefit his opponent. By giving jobs to the Green and Lib Dem candidates he would look weak, desperate, and like he was running out of ideas. Brian Paddick has already said that he wouldn't take up a job offer from Ken anyway. And who exactly do the experts think is knocking the doors day after day for Ken if it's not Labour activists?

Ken can win. He was head and shoulders above the other two candidates in the Newsnight debate last night.

But the way he can guarantee victory is lifting the weight of the world off his shoulders, showing a bit of his natural charm once more, look comfortable in the role and take on his opponents on the policy.

More than that, he needs to articulate just how important the role of London Mayor is from the perspective of security, the environment, transport, the economy, affordable housing, London's international prestige, and to give a focus to major occasions such as the 2012 Olympic games. It is a major role that requires a talented and competent political heavyweight. He doesn't need to attack Boris other than on the policy. If he articulates just how important the role is then people will quickly shy away from the blundering, stuttering, incoherent Boris Johnson no matter how much they may find him amusing.

In the last four years, Ken has contended with suicide attacks on London, the collapse of one the major tube operators, and has won the Olympic games while contributing to the creation of a mesmerisingly brilliant international city. That is a very strong record. That's his pitch. Warts and all, he is the man for the job.

There, a post about London and I didn't use the word 'vibrant' once. A first in modern journalism.

Postscript: Ken manages to avoid calling London 'vibrant' as well. This broadcast is just the sort of stuff that's needed. Needs to develop the 'what could go wrong' line a bit more but the right tone: positive, personal, and clear.

Postscript 2: Steve Richards' thoughts in The Indy this morning are worth a read.


  1. I would classify myself as an independent, and was wavering towards Boris - but after last nights debate it's clear to me that he would be a disaster, that Brian Paddick is a non-entity and that Ken is heads and shoulders above the rest, as mayor of a global city.

    For me - and the independents I talk to - the big negatives for Ken were:

    1) run out of steam, energy and ideas after 8 years - where's the renewal

    2) sense of entitlement

    3) too much pandering to islamistic fringe (see also Peter Tachells comments on Guardian CiF)

    4) why, oh why is he allying with Chavez, a tinpot dictator, who supports vile kidnappers and terrorists like the FARC

    5) too much international political grandstanding in general

    Any comments on above would be much appreciated.

  2. Thank you for your comments.

    As I say, there are certain reservations....

    It is worth looking at his campaign letter ( you are right, there are lots of 'continues' and 'maintains' in the future commitments. So I don't think a third Livingstone term would be blisteringly different from the first two.

    But his record is good, all the irritating Citizen Livingstone 1960s municipal radical rhetoric and international diversions aside. So four more years of the similar substantive approach on crime, transport, economic development etc. may not be a bad thing.

    Overall, I just don't think that Boris Johnson is in any way a serious candidate for what is a very important role both for the capital and the UK as a whole. Ken has his flaws but at least he is up to the job and so this will, in the end, come down to the ability to fill the Mayoral boots.

  3. Hi. Had a similar-ish post yesterday. Boris was plain embarassing on Paxo. Have just noticed myself on your blogroll so am adding you to mine right now. Thanks again.