Ken Livingstone’s crumbling Labour flank

by Atul Hatwal

Earlier this week YouGov released their latest London mayoral poll. While Boris Johnson’s 49%-41% lead on first preferences was widely reported, some of the most striking results were lost in the news vortex of the budget.

Chief among these is the scale of Ken Livingstone’s problem with Labour supporters: 31% say they will not vote for him in the mayoral election.

Just weeks before the election, almost 1 in 3 Labour supporters are refusing to back the party’s candidate for mayor.

In comparison, Boris Johnson’s core support is firmer. 86% of Conservative backers say they will vote for him with 14% either supporting other candidates or undecided.

The impact of this differential in party supporters’ commitment to their candidate is critical for the mayoral race: it translates into an 8% boost in Boris Johnson’s overall total.

And 8% is, coincidentally, the size of Johnson’s latest lead over Livingstone.

The bad news for Labour is that this problem has been building all year. The graph below shows how Ken Livingstone has progressively bled support from Labour backers while Johnson has consolidated his vote amongst Conservatives.

At the start of the year, Johnson’s Conservative support was more solid than Livingstone’s, but not by much. 15% of Tories were not going to vote for Johnson compared to 22% of Labour supporters who would not back Livingstone.

Although a 7% deficit in commitment amongst party supporters was not great for the Labour party, it is still a lot better than the 17% chasm that has opened up in the latest poll.

Now, as the campaign proper begins, the direction of travel is disastrous for Labour. If the trend since January continues, by polling day almost 40% of London’s Labour supporters will not vote for Ken Livingstone.

The primary task for Labour’s campaign is to halt the haemorrhaging of Labour support from the candidate. Otherwise, no matter what gains might be secured with Tory switchers or undecided voters, defeat will be assured because of Livingstone’s crumbling Labour flank.

But this is easier said than done, for two reasons: the nature of a campaign and Ken Livingstone’s history.

First, the target of Labour’s campaign is Boris Johnson. The current mayor is the focus for Labour’s activity in the media and on the doorstep. But for unhappy Labour supporters, most of this is irrelevant. Their problem is Ken Livingstone.

Unless Labour divert valuable campaign time and resources to addressing Ken Livingstone’s negatives, then the doubts which are driving away ever more Labour supporters will simply not be addressed.

But even if Labour could spare the time and effort, the second issue would make it almost impossible.

Ken Livingstone is probably the most well defined and established candidate running for office in Britain. He has been in front rank politics for over thirty years and the vast majority of Labour’s burgeoning group of Livingstone refuseniks will have been uneasy about the candidate for a while, if not definitively decided on opposing him.

To tackle Livingstone’s negatives, disillusioned Labour supporters would need to be convinced that a man who has prided himself on his constancy over the past decades has fundamentally changed.

As likely scenarios go, it’s something we can expect to see, right after George Osborne releases the full detail of his tax returns and personal finances.

So Labour will press on, running a reasonably effective campaign against Boris Johnson while the hole in the bucket remains unplugged and more and more Labour supporters leak away, deciding that they will give voting for the mayor a miss.

And at the end of it all, people will ask the question: how could Labour  hold a 10%+ lead over the Tories in London on party preference over a period of years, but still lose the mayoral election?

How indeed.

Atul Hatwal is associate editor at Uncut

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24 Responses to “Ken Livingstone’s crumbling Labour flank”

  1. While Ken Livingstone does have ‘history’, and love him or hate him, he is the current Labour candidate.

    The refusniks need to decide what is their greater priority, as left of centre social democrats; keeping Livingstone out, or getting Boris out. I know which I prefer, but maybe the choice is more obvious for a Scotsman. We always vote tactically to keep the Tories out.

  2. Ben Cobley says:

    @ Dean MacKinnon-Thomson

    So, you advocate telling the voters they are wrong? I would hazard a guess that this is probably not the most effective possible strategy.

    As Atul points out in the article, the Ken campaign has done a really good job, but with one glaring omission, that the candidate they are working for has a lot of negative history and will not disown any of it. It is just left out there, getting constantly drip-fed into the Evening Standard day upon day by the Tories for every commuter to read on their way home.

    Calling 31% of Labour voters “refuseniks” (a nice Soviet expression there) and implying they are somehow betraying the Left will probably not achieve anything. But I may be wrong.

  3. Frederick James says:

    To compound this, from Labour’s point of view, Ed Miliband is acting so as to maximise the damage from his association with the repellent Livingstone. His necessarily weaselly defences of him – not “Ken did not make those bigoted remarks” but “Ken does not have a prejudiced bone in his body”; not “Ken is not a two-faced tax-avoiding hypocrite” but the achingly clichéd “Ken has paid all the tax that is legally due” (we all know what that means!) – begin to tar Miliband and Labour by association with Livingstone.

    Miliband ought to drop Livingstone like a lump of nuclear waste and distance himself from the forthcoming result. But he isn’t that canny. Expect Tories to start running that grotesque hug picture as polling day approaches, and indeed for years afterwards.

  4. LondonStatto says:

    @ Dean MacKinnon-Thomson

    What you seem to have missed is that many of those currently saying they will vote Labour at the next GE are not “left-of-centre social democrats” but centrist swing voters of the kind who will generally say in midterm opinion polls that they will vote for whoever the opposition is – this is because the current government has annoyed them more recently than the current opposition.

    This automatic mindset drops away once an election is actually at hand and people (who, let’s face it, generally do not obsess about politics as much as those of us who frequent blogs like this one) begin to consider the relative merits and demerits of incumbent v challenger.

    And Livingstone’s demerits are well known to all.

    This is particularly key in the context of the London mayoral election, which is much more “Boris v Ken” than “Conservative v Labour”.

  5. LondonStatto says:

    Also, people who are centre-left are probably politically closer to Boris, who’s fairly centrist all in all, than to a crazy far-left nutter like Livingstone.

  6. Kevin T says:

    Practical, constructively intended advice from a Tory:

    Dump him. Dump him now. Make a statement that his behaviour has been unacceptable and replace him with Oona King or Alan Johnson or someone else palatable.

    Yes, it is too late. Yes, Ken being as disloyal as he is will run anyway and split the vote. Yes you will lose. However you’re going to lose anyway. At this point all Ken is doing is providing daily amusement for Tories like me. Boris barely has to show up and smile.

    (And even as a Tory I think that’s wrong – there should be a race, Boris should have to fight for re-election and be forced to promise to do more in his 2nd term)

    Replace him and you’ll at least lose with dignity. Miliband will be seen to show a bit of authority. The candidate you do run will be established for next time, when the Tories probably won’t have SuperBoris. There wil be some positives.

    Keep Ken and the next month is going to be one long, miserable slog followed by a ton of negative publicity for your party and your leader.

  7. Anon E Mouse says:

    Dean MacKinnon-Thomson

    You sum up all that is wrong with the Labour Party at the moment. To advocate supporting a misogynistic, anti-semitic, racist, tax fiddling hypocritical homophobe shows just why Labour needs a clear out of all the socialist dreamers and the wealthy Primrose Hill set like Polly Toynbee or the countess Harriet Harman.

    The sooner the likes of this posh boy Dean MacKinnon-Thomson join Socialist Worker and leaves the Labour Party to represent the workers the better…

  8. Anon E Mouse says:

    Frederick James

    In fairness to the Labour Party the members or the PLP did not elect Miliband – he was forced on them.

    Just who does the tax avoiding property millionaire who’s never done a single days work in his life actually represent? He went from university to work for Harriet Harman for goodness sake.

    The working class need to reclaim Labour from the nutters who have hijacked it and rid themselves of the unelectable Ed Miliband ASAP…

  9. Liberanos says:

    The Party voted for David. The unions elected Ed.

    The consequence of that is almost certain defeat at the next election.

    Let’s not compound the problem by now electing Ken Livingstone.

    His tax hypocrisy is appalling, that’s true. But surely far worse is his disgraceful public embracing of a prominent muslim cleric who espouses the beating of wives, the hanging of homosexuals and the elimination of Jews.

    To think the man once called himself a socialist.

    As a Labour Voter and member, I’ll be voting for Boris. He makes me considerably less nauseous.

  10. Jamie says:

    As LondonStatto said, this is much more about personalities than political parties.

    Ken’s recent comments about declaring “independence” for London and running everything himself crystallise the debate. It’s far more about Ken controlling us a la Hugo Chavez than doing things for our benefit. I’d hesitate to use the word “megalomaniac”, but it seems appropriate if we look at his record and statements.

    I don’t think Ken is likeable. However, I don’t think he is trustworthy either – and trusting him to run the whole of London at the level he wants to will be a bridge too far for many people.

  11. What this analysis fails to take into account is the “why”, we know that people who would vote Labour in a general election are not going to vote for Ken in the London elections but we do not know why they are not voting for Ken.

    Atul has chosen to insert his own reasoning here, but another compelling reason is that Boris is far more popular than his party. In Boris the Tories have a man who oozes charm and charisma, he’s also managed to main a healthy distance and independence from his party and built an image for himself as someone who puts the interests of London ahead of those for his party. The “Ken is the problem” diagnosis is really quite hard to prove.

    As to the proposed solution here, convincing voters over the next few months that Ken has changed his spots, that was some good shit you must have been smoking when you came up with that.

  12. Clr Ralph Baldwin says:

    People value democracy and a cheerful positive Boris over Ken in difficult times. When times are tough people are defined and Ken is a follower, grudgingly doing the least possible to help (hence the tax), a follower not a Leader.

    Self-interest is destroying Labour and more so as each day passes.

  13. Anon says:

    Error bars… Anyone?

  14. william says:

    The Labour party has signed its own long term death wish by adopting Ken as a candidate.When he is inevitably humiliated by the electorate,attention will shift to the chances of the UK electorate ,as a whole,choosing a future PM who is just another North London policy wonk.Fat chance.London is not the UK.England is overwhelmingly not Labour.The reality is,for Labour to win a future general election,that it must find a Blair type future leader who speaks the same language as middle England,who are increasingly fed up with subsidising the Celtic fringes,and utterly pissed off by the total destruction of the economy by one Gordon Brown,whose Marxist type interventions make the state half the economy.Livingstone was a Thatcher refusenik:her own party replaced her 22 years ago.You can learn a lot from the Tories,and from the SELF made millionaires in the Cabinet,whose tax returns are not in the news,unlike Ken, the loser and hypocrite in many people’s eyes.

  15. Anon E Mouse

    Given my own time involved with the UJS (Union of Jewish Students), I won’t even bother with your rather comical attack on my character.

    What I will say is, as a social democrat, I will always support the leftist candidate; because I as a leftwing voter will always have more philosophical views in line with him or her than a Tory.

    Additionally, suggestions that Boris is pretty centrist, that I have read on here, is equally comical and not worth commenting on.

  16. Alan Williams says:

    As a non-Labour voter, I will be voting for Livingstone because he has a clear track record of standing up for London. The more I hear about Labour not supporting Livingstone, the more I am convinced not to vote for Labour candidates for the assembly. If Livingstone was running as an independent he would have a massive lead over Johnson at the moment.

  17. Alasdair says:

    Personally, assuming Ken is on the ballot in May, I’ll be voting for him through gritted teeth. His policies would be better for London than Boris’ are, but I can’t disagree that he’s a deeply unpleasant person. I’d rather have almost anyone else as the Labour candidate. It’s still not too late to withdraw Labour’s support of him and find a better candidate. There must be someone else willing to do it, surely?

  18. John P Reid says:

    dean Mckinnon-Thomson to prevent the torees winning was Ken’s reson to back Luftur HAfman,It was pointed out that to prevent the BNP winning I could vote Boris, and Vote Livignstone for my second choice.

  19. Mike of Epworth says:

    Surely it’s the Labour supporters who are being betrayed rather than the Party or Ken Livingstone? Was Ken the only viable Labour candidate for the post of Mayor? It sounds to me as if this is a case of vote for the Labour candidate because she/he is representing Labour rather than vote for the Labour candidate as they’re the best option for London.

  20. T Jones says:

    Strange how Labour has been so careless about leading candidates in local elections. We saw in in Liverpool in the 80´s when Derek Hatton was allowed to use the Labour party and look what happened there. Now they are happy to let KL use the Labour brand yet again even though he does not reflect the best the party has to offer. Maybe it´s because once you´re in Westminster with a safe seat you just stop caring about the politics that is the most difficult, but which most affects real lives: local politics.

  21. Sally Burr says:

    If he paid the tax he owes the exchequer, that might be a start. This online petition is still active :

  22. andy says:

    That’s what happens when you run a dedicated, hard-core racist for mayor. Eventually, people vote with their, er… votes. This is why there must be zero tolerance of this; we have to get rid of these anti-semites, as well as that anti-Muslim lot up north like Straw and his cronies. Just kick all the bloody racists out of the party! Even the Tories have basically done the right thing.

    (Yes, BoJo has history too, but not nearly as much as Livingstone.)

  23. Dave Hollins says:

    What’s the difference between Labour Uncut and Guido Fawkes? Guido Fawkes admits he’s a Tory. Ken Livingstone’s biggest problem is a hostile media, with people like Gilligan full time on rubbishing him and many lies and distortions being told, but it’s all aided and abetted by people supposedly on the same side who are still fighting old political battles and are willing to risk Labour winning London and the General Election just to get revenge. If Johnson wins, you lot will be to blame, and there will be hell to pay because Labour will be finished as an electoral force and people like me can indulge ourselves campaigning against Blairites.

  24. Neander says:

    I think that Ken Livingstone’s greatest error was to go so hard for the Muslim vote and declare that he wants to make London more Islamic. True he’ll get a lot of Muslim votes, but even so, London isn’t Bradford West. What about all the Christians in London who have fled from Islamic persecution? Or the sizeable Nigerian Christian population in the capital? Or Eastern Europeans whose ancestors spent long and bloody centuries resisting the advance of Islam? And how many gay and lesbian Londoner’s will share Ken’s enthusiasm for a more Islamic London? Maybe there is a group out there called ‘Gays for Sharia’ but somehow I doubt its got many members. As for Ken’s relations with London’s Jewish community…let’s not even go there.

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