Who can beat Boris? Ken, argues Steve Hart

The London Labour electorate will decide between Ken Livingstone and Oona King on a number of factors. Who has a strategic vision for London? Who can inspire Londoners? Who can defend London against the Tory- LibDem government cuts best? Who has clear policies on London’s economy; for jobs, for transport, for a green future, for diversity, against crime, against poverty?  Who has the ability and experience to implement policies effectively? These are just a few of the factors to consider.

But the London selectorate want to be sure that they are electing the candidate with the best prospect of defeating Boris.  My paper tries to examine some of the evidence and debunk some of the myths. But the key point is clear – the Ken Livingstone electoral premium makes him the strongest potential candidate for Labour in London.

For Oona King the evidence is simple – she lost badly in 2005, losing a safe Labour seat, after the second worst performance. In 2001, she received a 50.4% share with 19,380 votes. By 2005, her share fell to 34%, losing 4,402 votes, polling 14,978; and she lost to George Galloway.

Ken Livingstone increased his vote share in 2008 on Labour’s worst night in the rest of the country. The 2008 election took place on a very bad night for Labour – in the aftermath of the 10p tax fiasco, and when Labour was at its worst in the polls. The yougov poll for May 7-9th showed Labour’s worst result since 1997 (Labour 23%, Tory 49%, Libdems 17%) with a Tory lead of 26%. It was one of the worst nights of local election results since before the second world war, with Labour polling 24% in local government, yet Ken got 37 per cent of first preferences.  He received 25 per cent more votes than Labour assembly candidates in inner and outer London.  He did the same as, or in some cases much better than, Labour 2010 General Election candidates in, for example, Havering, Merton, Bromley, Kingston and Richmond, when Labour’s overall national performance was much better than in 2008.

On a turn-out adjusted basis, Ken Livingstone’ s first preference votes in 2008 exceeded Labour’s total  London vote in the 2010 General Election and he received a higher percentage.

The pattern on turn-out from outer to inner London was more complex than is often presented. A tightly-contested election produced a raised turn-out but the increase in turn-out in Tory leaning outer-London Bexley & Bromley and Havering & Redbridge was less than the increase in Labour-leaning inner Enfield & Haringey, North East London and Lambeth & Southwark.

Oona King frequently suggests that politicians who lose office never return to the same office. She has clearly forgotten Harold Wilson returning in 1974 after defeat in 1970 (to Ted Heath who himself had lost the 1966 General Election); and Winston Churchill who returned as PM in 1951 after two General Election losses. To this we may add Bill Clinton in Arkansas. More recently and more locally, Labour leaders like Ann John in Brent have led their groups back to power four years after defeat.

Oona King’s backers have introduced the question of age. Gaffes about the freedom pass will matter far more to older people, and policies on the war and opposing the cuts more to younger people. Mayor Bloomberg in New York was re-elected last November at the age of 67. Countless other leaders have won election at all ages.

Evidence suggests that Ken Livingstone, if selected, will be able to achieve more votes than Labour generally in 2012. The Ken premium remains, whereas no equivalent evidence for his rival exists.

If selected, whether Ken wins will be in part be determined by his strategies, policies and campaigning. In part by ensuring that his policies specifically address all parts of London.  In part by campaigning effectively to popularise those policies in all parts of London. But his prospects will also be determined by Labour’s ability to change and to develop, campaign and build alliances for the policies which will address the alienation and insecurity that has lost millions of votes especially among Labour’s previous core voters.

The Labour Leadership debates have suggested that many favour a change of direction away from new Labour. In the mayoral selection it is Ken Livingstone who is clearly for that radical shift, the right recipe for electoral success in 2012.

For me, evaluating the evidence, it’s a no-brainer. Ken Livingstone is the most electable by a mile.

Steve Hart is Secretary of Unite the Union, London and eastern region, and vice-chair of Ken Livingstone’s mayoral campaign. He writes here in a personal capacity. To read his full analysis, Who Can Beat Boris?, click here.

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