Saturday, 3 May 2008

Election postscript

I've never spent such a tense day as I did yesterday, constantly checking on the progress of the Mayoral election results. And when the result finally did come through, confirming our worst fears that Boris Johnson had comfortably won City Hall, it really hit home.

Ken's valedictory speech was moving, and I could detect a little bit of emotion in his voice as he spoke from the platform. Hardly surprising, given the passion with which he's served London and the way in which he's understood it like no other politician. He's faced down his critics admirably, sometimes controversially, but always honestly. No-one could forget the way in which he brought the city together on 7 July 2005, and the speech which said it all about what sort of city London is. And at the risk of being a candidate for Private Eye's 'OBN' column, I don't mind admitting I shed some tears last night when I think about what sort of man London has lost.

Here's one of my favourite clips of the man in action...proof of what he was up against

Ken loses it at City Hall

So where did we go wrong? Ministers such as Justice Secretary Jack Straw have been saying we all "shoulder the blame", particularly with regard to some national issues, but I think London's politics are something quite different. We really should have won this.

Our campaign was flawed for a number of reasons. An article in yesterday's Guardian went a long way to explaining these issues. For me, a lot of it is about geography and Ken's inability to reach out to the middle-class suburbs. London is like a doughnut, or a Polo mint. We concentrated too much on the hole in the middle and didn't reach out enough to the people on the outside - inner London and the suburbs are after all two very different places. Our activists were really thin on the ground in places like Bexley and Kingston, which really didn't help get out the vote there. We also didn't stick to a clear message - was Boris just a clown or a nasty right-wing Tory? Or both?

A part of me is going to have to get used to Tories in top jobs again, but the divisiveness of Boris Johnson means I really can't see how he's going to appeal to ethnic minorities, gays or anyone who's vaguely socially progressive. Johnson is a pretty much unreconstructed free-market Thatcherite, whom - bumbling persona aside - represents the return of what the sort of hard-line right wing Tories we thought we'd seen the last of in 1997. We don't really know how his policies are going to pan out, such as his fabled new Routemaster (which I suspect will be quietly forgotten once he's realised how unworkable it will be). Alongside delivering the chaotic and ill-thought out manifesto, he even promises us the "odd indiscretion" from time to time, which will no doubt have Londoners glowing with pride as this comic character attempts to run a city of eight million people.

Boris may have won London, but he's not won our hearts and minds. Roll on 2012.

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