London Mayoral Election: Rival Candidates Intrude On The “Boris & Ken Show”:

So who will win on May 3rd? A survey conducted jointly on April 10th  by the London Evening Standard , ITV’s London Tonight and LBC Radio concluded that the Conservative Party candidate, Boris Johnson (the current Mayor) now has a 53% – 47% lead over the Labour Party’s Ken Livingstone (who was Mayor from 2000-2008). The “dramatic slide in Livingstone’s support”  has been attributed by the newspaper to the fierce confrontation between him & Boris in a lift after they had taken part  with the Liberal Democrat’s Brian Paddick & the Green Party’s Jenny Jones in an election programme on LBC Radio . Livingstone had accused Johnson of avoiding paying tax. The Mayor furiously rejected this as “a bare-faced lie”. The Evening Standard’s City Hall Editor,Pippa Crerar, commented two days later (5th April) that Livingstone himself  “has been accused of hypocrisy for attacking ‘tax dodgers’ while setting up a private company, Silveta Ltd, so he would only have to pay 20% corporation tax rather than tax at a higher rate”. Even the left-wing Guardian has portrayed Livingstone as “ an ageing machine politician with surprisingly little new to say, promising hazily-costed fare cuts and flirting with some nasty ethnic politics”. The same editorial dismissed Johnson as “arguably a better mayor than some had feared but evasive and woolly on detail and running a deliberately negative campaign with little vision”.

BBC London’s political correspondent, Karl Mercer, emphasised after the Evening Standard Mayoral Debate  at the Emmanuel Centre in Westminster on 11th April that voting intentions could change significantly in the remaining two weeks. At the “Black Britain Decides” meeting (12th April) in The Gourmet Theatre, Kilburn NW6  attended by the four main contenders, the questioners concentrated on health & transport issues, the Metropolitan Police’s “stop & search” policy  and the high level of unemployment among the capital’s black youth.  Mercer also pointed out that other concerns  (in addition to the candidates’ earnings and their tax payments) also emerged  at the Emmanuel Centre – such as London’s air quality, further measures to protect cyclists and improving facilities for the disabled. The next televised “hustings” will be on Sky News  from 8pm-9pm this Tuesday (17th April)  in front of an audience of 250 Londoners in which Johnson, Livingstone and Paddick will feature . Jenny Jones will only be allowed to contribute during the subsequent “analysis section”. Similarly, the supposedly “minor candidates” –  Siobhan Benita (Independent), praised by the Guardian for her “ thoughtful and sensible ideas”, Lawrence Webb  (UKIP: United Kingdom Independence Party) and Carlos Cortiglia (BNP: British National Party) – who have all protested at their virtual exclusion from these events . Two of them were in  the audience on 11th April: Benita  stood up and asked why more attention wasn’t being given to the problems of London’s youth; Cortiglia (a Uruguayan national based in the UK since 1989) wanted more discussion about immigration. Lawrence Webb ,a former night-club promoter,  believes VAT on beer should be slashed from 20% to 5% and has expressed fears on his website that new regulations to reduce vehicle emissions “will force ice-cream vans off the streets of London”.

The Emmanuel Centre is located just five minutes walk from the Houses of Parliament and Westminster Abbey. On its website, it specifies the seating capacity of its main auditorium as 1,000. According to an Evening Standard events organiser, however, they managed to fit 1,600 people into this  grand and elegant venue  for the debate on April 11th. The newspaper had invited its readers on March 19th to apply for tickets (free of charge). Within hours, all the places had been taken – a clear sign of the immense interest among  London residents in the outcome of this election. The presumption was that Boris and Ken would dominate the occasion. They didn’t. The stars were Jenny Jones, Brian Paddick and the compere – Clive Anderson. A comedy writer and a popular radio & TV presenter who has appeared regularly on the satirical BBC TV show “Have I Got News For You”, he was not overawed by the presence of  two “major personalities”. He was – as journalist  Simon Carr wrote in “The Independent” the next day – largely  responsible for the good-humoured atmosphere during (most of) the evening.

Jones and Paddick much of the time appeared more confident, articulate and organised than either Boris or Ken.  Boris tended to resort to laid-back witticisms whenever he struggled to find a convincing answer (which was quite often). Ken sometimes seemed to be reading from prepared scripts rather than directly addressing the audience. The underlying impression was that he is anxious,even desperate, to recover the mayoral throne at City Hall from  the Usurper Johnson. In response to a question from the audience about the Congestion Charge, the Mayor confirmed that he will not remove it completely as “it is working well” and blames 30% of traffic delays on the utility companies who keep digging up the roads. Jones would like to introduce a “road pricing policy” to make London’s air cleaner  and Paddick feels that congestion in the capital is worse now than before the system was first introduced . The Mayor was applauded when he insisted that cylists should obey the rules of the road. Paddick then reminded everyone that Boris himself had been videoed crossing red lights on his bike. They all argued about whether crime has gone up or down over the past four years. Towards the end, Anderson interjected that “every time there’s a promise, there’s a question regarding where the money will come from” – echoing Boris’s retort to Ken’s repeated committment to new investment.. So again: who will win?. The thunderous applause (and shouts of “Champagne Socialist”) which greeted Anderson’s observation that Livingstone “would have been paying more tax if he hadn’t set up a company to reduce it” indicated that Boris Johnson will probably still be Mayor of London on 4th May.



Filed under: Politics | Posted on April 18th, 2012 by Colin D Gordon

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