Friday, 11 January 2008

The Late Lunch Briefing

Boris – will he do it?

Yesterday I went to a debate at the London Chamber of Commerce that discussed whether Boris Johnson could become Mayor. The panel consisted of Tony Travers from the LSE and ComRes's Andrew Hawkins and political blogging giant, Iain Dale. Iain has done a post on the debate over at his blog today which will fill you in on the main areas of discussion. In today’s lunchtime briefing I will throw my pennies worth in the debate...

It was very quickly established that everyone present thought that Boris could win. However, it was only Mr Dale who thought that he actually would win (though Iain is claiming that there were some shy Tories in the room who were scared to own up). An interesting, if not wholly unscientific, poll result. Why would everyone think that he could win but then go on to believe that he actually wouldn’t? The answer is complicated, but probably lies somewhere in the fact that Ken is the incumbent and when push comes to shove we’d rather stick with someone we know is credible than take a gamble on a maverick. It got me thinking though; under what conditions could Boris actually win?

The Polls are lying

This was pretty well covered by the panel. Tony Travers and Andrew Hawkins made the very valid point that the polls should not be taken too seriously with this election. The reason is twofold:

Firstly, and less importantly, this is not going to be a winner takes all election – the system takes in to account second preferences. So even if Boris is only a point or two behind Ken, he will still need to pick up the second preference votes. This will probably be the overriding factor is stopping Boris becoming Mayor. It is pretty widely accepted that the second preference votes are more likely to go to Ken.

Secondly, the turnout at London Mayoral Elections has been very low so far. They tend to attract about 35% - a figure that makes it virtually impossible for pollsters to accurately predict what the result will be. Boris may well be popular with the young voters, but the likely fact is very few of them will actually bother turning out.

The Tactics

So, in terms of the positive polls for Boris, thing are not as good as they may seem. In terms of the actual battle, right now I think Boris is doing as well as he possible can – in short he is playing a blinder. For some strange reason, Ken is resorting to cheap and unpleasant personal attacks. He is trying to paint Boris as a racist and a buffoon. Everyone knows Boris is a bit of a buffoon – it is why everyone loves him so much. As for the racism – it just won’t wash and only makes Ken look desperate. Why, if Ken has all the vision and credibility is he not playing to it? Why is he effectively going “Look at him! Look at him!” The result is we will all look at Boris and probably listen to what he has to say. If you are in the driving seat, forget your opponent, especially when they are as charismatic as Boris. Let Boris mess it up. Boris on the other hand is saying the right things, but time will tell if he is taken as a serious politician. When push comes to shove would you rather it were Boris or Ken in charge during a crisis? Right now, most people would probably plump for Ken.

All in all, Boris is a lovable figure but I just don’t think that the masses will take the gamble. As soon as Boris starts talking serious he loses that appeal. His best hope, as the panel agreed, is to fight this campaign as being Boris the personality. I just don’t think, given the terror threat and rising crime in London, that it will be enough on the day and Londoners will come over all serious.

The incredible significance of this election

The significance of this election was not lost on the panel either. A win for Boris in London would have serious implications for the Labour party nationwide. Tony Travers described the Mayoral elections as a proxy war and I have sympathies with this assessment. If Boris can win in London it will be reported as a massive victory for the Tories and the first tangible sign that they are an electable party again who have Labour on the ropes. On the other hand, if Ken wins it will show that even with all the disasters that Labour has gone through recently they can still win in a traditionally strong Tory area. This really is round one in the next general election – the winner of which will be in a commanding position.

Connie Huq?!!

After I left the debate I settled down to watch the ITV debate involving the candidates themselves. Imagine my horror when Connie Huq popped up on my screen. I lasted about twenty minutes before I switched off the most amateurish political broadcast I think I have ever seen. It was like a school debate with the head girl as the chair. No direction, no control, no idea. Even the set was appalling and the audience all dressed up in their rosettes?! This was no Question Time and Huq is no Dimbleby. ITV should stick to Pop Idol or whatever it is they do.

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