Beware Livingstone supporters claiming you have no choice

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Ken Livingstone supporters moving into the clothes peg business. Remember Polly Toynbee’s exhortation in the run up to the general election that people should vote Labour not because they were any good but because the Tories were worse? Well, it seems that Livingstone supporters have started a similar tactic. Seumus Milne, acknowledging that there is “a strong left critique of Livingstone,” nonetheless insists that “the choice [between Livingstone and Johnson] could hardly be starker. No other candidate is in with a shout.” Meanwhile, a bunch of Labour MPs have written a letter to the Guardian demanding that “the real issues in the London mayoral election should be Ken Livingstone’s record after eight years in office” only to immediately add that “Boris Johnson would abolish the 50% affordable housing policy. He opposed the minimum wage, backed section 28 and has called for big cuts to London’s transport and policing budgets. The choice could not be clearer.”

The Labour practice of talking up the Tories in order to shut down debate (and vice versa) is a time honoured tradition, and one the Lib Dems in turn practice themselves all the time. Polly at least had a point; under first past the post voting against the party you hate is more relevant than voting for the party you like. But the Mayoral election will not be conducted under first past the post but the supplementary vote (SV) system.

SV is by no means perfect – unlike AV you still have to take tactical factors into consideration when casting your first preference. But it does broaden the range out to at least the top three. What then becomes important is which candidates enjoy the broadest consensus. Livingstone has always done well out of a broad coalition of lefties, liberals and greens – these are votes Johnson must attract to actually win. Can he? I’m doubtful, and I suspect he can only lose ground over the next couple of months. On this basis it is looking less and less likely that Johnson can win, even if he ends up in the top two.

By contrast, it is not beyond the realms of possibility at all that if Paddick could overtake him. He was very unlucky to have his candidature announced while the leadership election was getting under way which didn’t make for the best of starts. But his relaunch this month has been very successful and he has a broader appeal than the standard Lib Dem candidate.

It’s no exaggeration to say that the only two people who can win this race are not Livingstone and Johnson but Livingstone and Paddick. The fact that Livingstone supporters seek to present the shock haired loon as some kind of looming phantom menace suggests they fear this is true themselves.

6 thoughts on “Beware Livingstone supporters claiming you have no choice

  1. I know there is always some antipathy towards opinion polling, but this post flies in the face of all actual evidence, inculding past elections. Its a two horse race, the media have picked their narrative, and Paddick is coming third. Thats just the way it goes sometimes.

  2. Well, actually I was basing this on the polls, although I couldn’t find the link at the time, which was annoying.

    The point is that Johnson is a far more divisive choice than Livingstone. rendering it extremely difficult to win. Meanwhile, Paddick has been going up in the polls in recent weeks.

    I’m not denying that Paddick has a mountain to climb. I am however saying that if it ends up a play off between Livingstone and Johnson, Livingstone will win. By contrast, Paddick is a more consensual candidate and thus poses a real threat to Livingstone. So of course it is in Labour’s interest to talk down his chances and talk up Johnson’s.

  3. I’m sorry to say Labour has form on this. In the European Elections they have put a “don’t waste your vote” type message on literature- completely ignoring the proportional system means that, in essence, there are no “wasted votes” as in first past the post.

    The irony is especially sharp in the South East where Labour came 4th party in terms of votes and seats in the 2004 European Election.

  4. http://politicalbetting.com/index.php/archives/2008/01/25/boost-for-ken-in-new-yougov-poll/
    What polls have had Paddick performing better than a 50’s Liberal? Add to that the media have chosen their theme for the election and its really hopeless. The other parties have a stronger organisation, more press, a higher profile, and let us face the truth, more support.
    Hopefully we will one day be not just to field an excellent candidate like Brian, but give him a competitive chance at the mayors office. Unfortunatly, thats not going to be 2008.

  5. Aren’t you a little ray of sunshine? I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of PMA?

    To answer your question: all of them – including the one you’ve just cited. And about half have him doing significantly better than that. But none of that undermines my central argument, which is that Boris can’t beat Ken and that the electoral system used means that people do not have to face a stark choice between Livingstone and Johnson.

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