Marcus Roberts wrote a convincing ten point planon what Ken needs to do to win. I agree with nine and half of his points. Not bad going. However, I also slightly disagree with the premise as a whole. Because I think it buys into the half a point I disagree with – that this is a contest of Ken Vs Boris.
If we allow this to become a Ken Vs Boris contest, we’ll lose. Ken may have been the big personality of London once, but he isn’t anymore. In 2000 even I voted for him against Labour. In June a poll had him trailing the Party by 20 points. Things have changed, Ken’s campaigning style needs to change too.
You would not know this to look at his website or his otherwise excellent Fare Deal video. In fact you’d barely know that Ken is running for Labour. This is a huge strategic mistake. It’s a mistake because Labour poll ahead of Ken, but more than this, it cedes the ground of the debate. It gives up a Tory Vs Labour fight we have a chance of winning to a personality politics bun fight. That puts the game firmly on Boris’s turf, allows him to flirt with his Tory rebel image (without actually ever actually living up to it) and these days, Ken is no match for this
I like Ken. I’ve grown up with him as a permanent fixture of my political life. The GLC were an intrinsic part of my childhood, and that of every child who ever sailed up the Regents Canal on the Jenny Wren or tried in vain to use one of their square rubbers as a bouncy ball. But Boris is the bigger personality. Just as Ken was a household name in the 80s, now Boris is known and – we must accept liked – by millions.
This isn’t to say we shouldn’t highlight Boris’s incompetence, dilettantism and complete inability to empathise with the lives of ordinary Londoners. But we should equally be framing this better. It’s not just because Boris is rich that he considers his wages “chickenfeed” while raising the fares of ordinary Londoners. It because he fundamentally agrees with the path the Government is taking which is hurting ordinary Londoners.
Boris doesn’t want to fight this campaign as a Tory but as Boris. I accept that we can’t simply repeat the fact that he is a Tory, but actually being a Tory is one of Boris’s big weaknesses. Not to at least attempt to capitalise on that would be insane.
Ken and London Labour should adopt most of the advice Marcus has given them. But I’m concerned about “meeting voters where they are on Boris”. Because where they are at the moment is that they like him and they’re inclined to vote for him. Labour have to come out swinging as a team. We have that strength in London that the Tories don’t. It’s going to be difficult because this contest has never really been fought on a Party political basis. But we need to shift the frame of the debate if we are going to win back my beautiful city. London deserves better than Boris and a lot better than the Tories. We have to make it clearer to the electorate, that by electing BoJo, you get Osborne, Cameron, and Brian Coleman. But by electing Ken, you get a Labour candidate ready to take the fight for London to the Government.
This post first appeared on Labour List.