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The Political Pulse

Latest opinion research and analysis

Labour for Boris, Tories for Ken

As I argued last year, Ken and Boris are both very popular and electorally successful politicians. Each has clear strengths, running on their record in office with a persona and approach to politics that puts them outside the norm and gives them an appeal that cuts across party lines.

In the YouGov poll released last week, the Boris mayoralty gets a thumbs-up from 56% of Londoners against just 37% seeing it as performing poorly. This +19% rating contrasts with David Cameron’s -4% and the Government’s -22%.

Equally, approval of Ken’s mayoralty stands at +15% compared to Ed Miliband’s dismal -41% score.

‘Labour for Boris’ has been much covered. The incumbent is kept competitive in a still Labour city by the fact that a large chunk of Labour general voters back his candidacy (17%). More interestingly, perhaps, 34% of Labour voters think Boris is doing a good job as Mayor – including 22% of those who intend to vote for Ken Livingstone.

Perhaps forgotten, however, is the ‘Tories for Ken’ movement. Indeed, in Ken’s solid 2004 win (by 8% on the first round and 11% on the second), the Conservatives took a clear lead on the GLA vote (by 3% on the list and 6% in the constituencies).

Now a more muted force, with just 10% of Conservative supporters intending to back Mr Livingstone, much goodwill still remains. A full 30% of Conservatives feel that Ken did a good job as Mayor, including 28% of those who are planning on backing Mr Johnson.

The equivalent crossover as a national level is just 9% for either Labour voters approving of David Cameron or Conservatives of Ed Miliband. The Mayoral candidates both attract more than three times that.

It is just for this reason that Labour’s decision to give senior Chicago community organiser Arnie Graf the task of hunting down Ken votes in solid Conservative territory like Havering and Bromley, potentially from Conservative supporters, seems such a shrewd move. Indeed, despite Labour weakness in parts of ‘the doughnut’, the comparative ease of campaigning in leafy outer suburbia means he may find it easier to locate supporters ‘behind enemy lines’ than the Boris campaign might find it in Labour Newham.

But perhaps that’s it: an office that always had an ‘American’ quality in its structure and centralisation of power in a single figure has succeeded in attracting big-personality candidates who diminish the importance of party; just as Democratic voters elected Rudy Giuliani and Michael Bloomberg as Republicans mayors of New York. Indeed, party cross-over is far more common in the states, with the likes of Oklahoma having a solid Democratic registration advantage, without having backed one of its party’s Presidential candidates since 1964. Others may see the Mayoral election as behaving more like a local election, where a perceived depoliticisation can make voters sway from their loyalties; Three Rivers council in Hertfordshire, for instance, nestling in David Gauke’s super-safe Conservative seat, has elected Liberal Democrat majorities for decades. But such comparison probably understates the importance of the mayoral model and the candidates it attracts.

Indeed, Boris Johnson's post-riot broom-waving, pictured above, bears a striking resemblance to that of fictional Mississippi gubernatorial candidate Homer Stokes in the Cohen brothers' hit O Brother Where Art Thou? Politics has, after all, often been described as 'show business for ugly people'.

Overall, much as some, particularly other candidates, may mock the ‘Boris and Ken Show’, Londoners seem to rather enjoy it – and the sequel seems likely to attract another blockbuster turnout and a similarly climactic finale.