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.