There’s some surprisingly good news today as Livingstone closes the gap to just 2% with only 10 days left to go in the race. As Len Duvall has already written today, the polling suggests that there’s some momentum behind Ken’s campaign. It’s always important not to read too much into polls that show something you weren’t expecting. The direction of travel seems to be with Ken, but margin of error is a significant factor. Whilst many will say the race is now neck and neck, it’s not quite as simple as that.
There certainly doesn’t seem to be any significant movement either way on the doorstep. There are still those who will vote Labour but not Ken (although perhaps fewer than earlier in the campaign), and still a not insignificant “Labour for Boris” vote. But considering the battering that Livingstone has taken in the media in recent weeks on tax, “actors” in campaign videos and Lord Sugar telling people not to vote for him, I fully expected the polls to have worsened for Livingstone.
But I was wrong.
Much of the gain for Ken seems to have come from Labour voters – a combination of Labour’s lead extending nationally (and locally, Labour now leads by 19% in the capital), as well as reticent Labour voters returning to Ken. As I said last week, Ken needs more party and less personality – in the last week the party focus has worked. His campaign should double down on Labour messages (rather than Ken ones) in the final straight.
There’s trouble ahead though for Ken, and the next 2/3 days may well decide the race. There’s a 72 hour tube strike planned in London from Tuesday-Friday. The Tories will spend the next week obsessively trying to pin that strike on Livingstone. The public know that Labour has a close relationship with the unions. The Tory machine and their outriders will be spending this week trying to say that the man responsible for the strike is Ken, rather than Boris – the man who is currently (supposedly) running London.
That’s a message that could resonate with angry commuters and push the race out of Livingstone’s grasp by the end of the week.
Team Ken should be spending the next few days exercising similar message discipline. This is a Labour vs Tory fight. The strikes are caused by a Tory Mayor who has failed to manage the tube network and failed to deal with unions before strike action. These strikes are Boris Johnson’s fault. There have been more strikes in Johnson than there were under Ken.
That it’s a pro-Johnson paper won’t help, but the rebuttal to Tory attacks must be in the Evening Standard tomorrow so that Ken’s response is out there to be read on delayed journey’s home. Pro-active media from Livingstone has been good in the campaign, but rebuttal has too often been too slow.
This time, if rebuttal of Tory attacks on tube strikes is too slow, it’ll be too late to turn it around and Ken won’t be able to claw himself back into contention. Not again. This is the final Comeback Ken’s final comeback.
He has to make it count.