The impact of party and personality in London mayoral elections
The London mayoral elections – or the Boris and Ken show, as they seem to have become – demonstrate quite how important it is for mayors to be seen as both part of their political party and independent of it at the same time.
Being part of national political parties matters hugely to mayoral candidates. Not only do they capture some of the ‘safe’ votes for these parties, but representing these main parties means that ‘the big four’ in London – Boris, Ken, Brian Paddick and Jenny Jones – are all included in all the official mayoral debates.
Independent candidates, such as Siobhan Benita, and candidates for other parties, such as UKIP, do not tend to be given the air time and so find it more difficult to generate coverage for their manifestos – although Siobhan Benita is benefiting from a wide range of endorsements and increasingly gaining coverage in the national press.
But it’s also striking that candidates’ popularity is different from the popularity of the parties they represent. This week’s Evening Standard / YouGov poll shows that both Boris is 10 points ahead of the Conservatives, having opened up a 6% lead on Ken, while Ken lags 6 points behind the Labour party.
This concept of the mayor as an independent insider is part of what attracts voters to the idea of a mayor – Boris has made a big show of the way that his advocacy of London has benefited the city through policies such as the Royal Docks Enterprise Zone.
But this also reinforces the importance of personality to mayoral politics. Although each candidate is putting forward different headline policies, the focus in the media has tended to be on tax returns or heated debates in a lift – not big policy issues for London, but details about the two main rivals for the job. And while it’s great news that local elections are generating the interest and conversation that they are, and that so many people are on first name terms with two candidates that most people have never met, it’s important that the campaign is about more than just swapping insults.
Mayors have huge potential to make a difference to the economy of their city, and there has rarely been a better time for a Mayor of London to showcase London to the world during the “Jubolympics” – (the fantastic BBC programme Twenty Twelve’s term for the Jubilee and then the Olympics). Policy details are never going to hit the headlines in the same way as details about the people going for the job, but they’re what will really make the difference to London’s economy and the people who live there.
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