… that I’d rather not support Ken Livingstone for Mayor? Somehow I just can’t muster any massive enthusiasm for Livingstone, nor do I feel the chilling terror of his major opponent (Tory buffoon Boris Johnson) that the Mayor’s re-election campaign appears to be trying to instil in the electorate. To hear the statements coming from some of Livingstone’s supporters you’d think that this was a race between Che Guevara and some kind of combination of Adolf Hitler and Satan, and I just can’t see what is effectively a council election on steroids in such apocalyptic terms. I also, try as I might, just can’t bring myself to like the oleaginous Livingstone, who is still trying to morph himself from his previous status as a grinning celebrity chat show guest, to having some kind of political gravitas. Ironically of course, Johnson is a product of the same media clowning circuit that Livingstone is. Bojo versus Bozo – what an appetising choice for the people of London.
Don’t get me wrong, I do appreciate that there are policy differences on things such as affordable housing targets, not to mention the burning lifestyle issue of bendy buses versus routemasters, and that obviously the latter is a life-or-death which should have me up all night in a cold sweat. But again, these differences are at best the differences between a centre-left liberal and a centre-right economic libertarian. At worst (as with BusGate) they’re no more than a question of gimmickry and posturing – emblematic of shallow metropolitan politics at its worst.
The tone of the campaign is also rather unpleasant at times – it may be a sign that Livingstone’s supporters are desperate when stories emerge in the press making barely veiled accusations of racism towards Johnson, either directly or via the proxy of accusations levelled at those who happen to support him. Similarly the same old Evening Standard campaign alleging all manner of misbehaviour on Livingstone’s part seems also to be raising its ugnly head. Darren Lilleker has an interesting article on the dangers for a less-than-universally popular incumbuent like Livingstone “going negative” and playing the race card. For the record, I don’t believe either man is a racist or indeed any less scrupulous than the average politician; I think that such playground accusations are what rush into the gap left by the absence of a serious policy debate over serious political differences.
Even where there are serious political differences, these are over issues that the Mayoralty cannot directly affect. Livingstone’s record on the Iraq war, for instance, is an honourable one whereas Johnson’s is appalling. However neither man will be able to do any more about it from the Mayor’s office than they could from the House of Commons when both were maverick backbench MPs. So again, whilst I recognise the differences, somehow I just can’t seem to care.
So, what of the other candidates? My friends in the AWL are half-heartedly backing Lindsey German, the SWP candidate. This is presumably on the basis that she’s the sole candidate of the left, to Livingstone’s left. Doubtless her campaign, whilst essentially worthy, will be a token effort at best. Sian Berry, the occassionally impressive Green candidate, has already effectively subordinated her campaign to Livingstone’s. Brian Paddick is a light-weight choice for the Liberal Democrats, being little more than a NOTA vote for people who really can’t stand both Livingstone and Johnson.
So Londoners are faced with a choice between an increasingly tired-looking Mayor who (in spite of “going negative” indecently early in the campaign) can’t crack 40% of first preferences, a Tory who is closing in on 50% virtually by default, and a procession of flaky fringe candidates.
All I can say is I’m glad it’s not my choice.