Saturday, May 05, 2012

And those that laughed, they are laughing again (again)

It's a black day for London. But however much the dark arts of Lynton Crosby and the risible outpourings of the Evening Standard might have contributed, Ken ultimately has to take the blame, his personality flaws rendering him author of his own misfortune. The upshot is that we are now firmly ensconced in an era where the only mayors we'll ever get (whether Labour or Tory - and it will only be Labour or Tory) are going to be in it as a stepping-stone, rather than as a calling, no doubt happy to rake in cash from jobs on the side while they're at it. And we'll certainly never see an independent mayor again, as Ken achieved in 2000, to Tony Blair's fury and chagrin (remember, this was when Blair was actually quite popular).

Meanwhile, on the ground, Boris's ostensible (and quite cleverly calculated) "do nothing" approach (perfectly encapsulated by his 2012 manifesto, which was launched so late it nearly missed the poll, and contained things he'd promised to do in his 2008 one) would be bad enough for a city with the size and the problems of London: but his *real* policies, involving creeping cuts to services, tilting transport policy yet further towards the motorist, apologia for News International and City excess, political interference with the police, cronyism typified by the Veronica Wadley affair, ongoing management incompetence as all those deputy mayors fell by the wayside and innumerable vanity projects (Boris Island, the Routemaster debacle, and the sodding cable-car), are worse. Having nothing positive to show for his four years in office didn't seem to be an issue though, which is why the Conservative flyer that came through our door had *no references at all* to either Boris, or his campaign, or his party: not a single pixel of true blue, nor a single syllable of policy. Cloaked in Millbank red, it consisted entirely of extracts from Boris-supporting newspapers (and quotes from Alan Sugar, a man known chiefly for hamming it up on some light entertainment programme) about Ken's general unsuitability.

What we really hadn't expected was how suddenly Ken (more popular than Labour in the 1980s before the GLC's abolition, and then again in 2000, 2004 and 2008 once the role of the Mayor was created) had lost so much support amongst Labour voters, in a city which has traditionally preferred candidates from the left of the party. In particular, how one in ten "Labour" voters apparently voted for Boris: we were discussing this in the Shooting Star en route to Brick Lane last night, but none of us could get our head around that mindset. Were these people Blairites on a wrecking mission, or just innocents somehow unaware that Boris is about as far from "soft" right as you can be in the allegedly modernised Conservative party ? What were grand statements like abolishing London's anti-racist festival, other than fairly transparent attempts to win "anti-PC" points from the UKIP and BNP voters whose second preferences helped him to maintain power ?

I know that some of you are already berating us Londoners for giving the Tories post-council election succour. All I can say in my own defence is that in our constituency (which also happens to be Johnson's: I walk past his house on the way to work), Ken outpolled his rival by 2:1. As always, the key places where the vote came through for Boris were those parts of the "Greater London" constituency which are simply not - whether you look at it historically, sociologically or just at the postcode - actually in London.

Them's the breaks, though. So leaving our partisanship to one side, perhaps what's most upsetting in the cold light of day is looking at the 'hidden' voting figures, rather than the headline brawl between the two heavyweights. It was obvious to any observer, however unseasoned, that the mayoral vote would go to a second round. It was also plain that only two candidates would be in that second round, so there was no point in putting anyone but Boris or Ken as a second preference. And yet... 363,000 put the Lib Dems as second preference. Another 363,000 opted for the Green Party. Some 547,000 plumped for one of the three remaining candidates knocked out in the first round. (We accept that some of these would be Ken / Boris overspill votes - we wouldn't expect too many people to put Boris first and Ken second, or vice versa - but it's fair to assume that a good many were not, making them frankly just wasted ballots).

That's not to mention the 50,000 people who were defeated by the ballot paper altogether and managed to vote for too many candidates, or not to put their X in any of the boxes provided. (Rather touchingly, 213,000 punters voted for the same candidate as both first and second preference). And then, of course - and here's the real kick in the stomach - the 68% of eligible Londoners who didn't bother to vote at all (don't even *start* on the line that they were justified because "it doesn't make a difference who you vote for", or that "all politicians are the same" - really ? For the mayoralty, Ken and Boris 'the same' ? On the Assembly, the BNP 'the same' as the Greens ?) *Sigh*...

So, in a contest where first beat second by 60,000 votes, you have 3.6 million people who didn't turn out, and a good proportion more whose mark could have counted for something, but failed to, either through apathy or ineptitude. Whether you're red, blue or any other colour of the political spectrum, you can't but find that depressing.

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