Battle of the stats: Oona King’s campaign manager rebutts Steve Hart

This article is a response to an article from Steve Hart based on his pamphlet ‘Who can beat Boris?’

Beware those bearing false statistical comparisons and wishful thinking. Steve Hart’s argument that Ken Livingstone is more popular than Labour is based on a flawed set of assumptions that, don’t stand up to scrutiny.

Steve claims that in 2008 Ken Livingstone out performed London’s MPs in the 2010 general election; and in so doing, he makes a totally false comparison. The mayoral election in 2008 was a London-wide election that was effectively a two-horse race – and voters understood it this way. The Liberal Democrats (and smaller parties) weren’t competitive and many voters simply voted with a major party without going through the charade of transferring their vote.

The general election in London was, in contrast, effectively more than 70 local races. Many of which the Liberal Democrats were competitive in – either where they already held MPs, in say Steve and my own constituency of Hornsey & Wood Green or Richmond or where they were hopeful of taking MPs: Islington South or Hampstead & Kilburn. This meant their vote was motivated to stick with them, rather than to stop their least favorite as was the case in the 2008 mayoral election.

If you look at the 2004 and 2008 mayoral elections – where Ken won and then subsequently lost, the best way to test any “Ken effect” in these races is to omit the third-party votes, and look at shares of the two-party vote for mayor and assembly top-up. This is where people expressed a pure party preference (not warped by any constituency effect). So, in 2004, on the mayoral first count division of two-candidate vote the totals were Livingstone 56%, Norris 44%. Let’s compare that to the assembly top-up, where Labour scored 47% and the Conservatives 53%.

That gives a “Ken bonus” of nine points in 2004 – that’s the difference between his 56 per cent and the 47 per cent achieved by the Assembly.

And now let’s look at 2008. We see that Ken’s bonus is eroded. The first count division of two-candidate vote Ken Livingstone 46%, Boris Johnson 54%.

Let’s compare that to the assembly top-up: Labour 44%, Conservative 56%.

This gives a “Ken bonus” of just two points.
Yet, Steve Hart can’t declare victory here either. Firstly a two point Ken bonus is very slim. But to declare that this means Livingstone can do better than Labour in 2012 – given he is offering essentially the same policy programme and approach that failed in 2008- is sheer wishful thinking. And there is no proof that Oona King won’t outperform Labour across London – if you really want to go back to her defeat in Bethnal Green and Bow, the unique circumstances of that election and the backdrop of the Iraq war are certainly not going to be repeated in 2012 – it’s a weak argument.

There’s another way of looking at this too. Between 2004 and 2008, Ken’s share of the first-vote two-candidate vote fell by ten points, while Labour’s share of the two-party assembly vote fell by just three points. Ken Livingstone’s popularity, in short, is falling faster than the party he represents. Not a compelling trend.

In fact there is data to suggest there is a strong anti-Ken vote. London councils, after the election defeat, commissioned polling of electors across the capital. A total of 22 per cent of Conservative voters said they supported Boris Johnson primarily because their dislike of Ken Livingstone clouded out all other reasons to vote Tory. By contrast, only 7 per cent of Labour voters felt a similar antipathy towards Boris Johnson. Dislike of Ken Livingstone, in short, motivated Tory voters, and helped lead to Labour’s defeat.

One final point: we can all debate about election results and polling data until we lose all sense of perception. Such statistics are not a good way for anybody to decide how they will vote in the London Mayoral race. Instead, I’d rather people looked at what Oona, and Ken Livingstone, have to offer Londoners.

Oona wants to help the low paid get on the housing ladder, through an innovative Mayor’s Mortgage scheme. She wants to cut bus fares by bringing Kensington and Chelesa back into the congestion charge zone. And she wants to tackle knife, gun and gang crime head on; 14 children have been murdered on London’s streets this year and that is 14 too many – it’s time we had a champion in city hall who really focussed on this issue with a new energy and vigour.

Oona has published a raft of forward looking, innovative policies to change London for good. These are the issues on which people should chose how to vote, not some flawed analysis of historic election results.

Matt Cooke is the campaign manager for Oona4Mayor

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2 Responses to “Battle of the stats: Oona King’s campaign manager rebutts Steve Hart”

  1. Confused says:

    Just to get this straight:

    The Bethnal Green and Bow defeat in 2005 was caused by “unique circumstances” that won’t exist in 2012; while…

    The 2008 Mayoral defeat was down to Ken’s policy programme and approach. Nothing to do with Labour’s extreme unpopularity nationwide in 2008 then.

  2. Tony Cleary says:

    If you’re going to make an analysis like this, Matt, include all the factors. The 2008 election was the culmination of 8 months of the most savage, sustained and lying smear campaign I’ve ever seen, mounted by the Evening Standard – and you didn’t have to actually read the Standard to get the message: its billboard headlines screamed at you day after day, and its articles set the agenda for radio and TV reports and debates. On the final BBC Question Time only one question was directed at Boris and his policies, while 40 minutes of the programme was devoted to questions about Ken’s “sleaze”. With the Standard’s new owner, that’s not likely to happen in 2012, and maybe Ken’s policies will actually get an airing, [or Oona’s, if she’s the candidate; I’m sure the old standard could have invented plenty of lies about her as well]
    Tony Cleary

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