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Cablegate: London Mayoral Election: A National Bellweather?

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DE RUEHLO #1091/01 1071642
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R 161642Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY LONDON
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8283
INFO RUEHZL/EUROPEAN POLITICAL COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 LONDON 001091

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL UK
SUBJECT: LONDON MAYORAL ELECTION: A NATIONAL BELLWEATHER?

REF: LONDON 573 AND PREVIOUS

SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; PROTECT ACCORDINGLY.

1. (SBU) Summary. On May 1 Londoners go to the polls to elect a new
Mayor. The incumbent, Labour's Ken Livingstone, is looking to win
his third successive term in office but faces a tough challenge from
the Conservative candidate, Boris Johnson. At present the race is
too close to call. A lot is at stake for both main parties: while a
win for Livingstone would not necessarily give Labour a bounce in
the polls, a defeat would be seen as another blow to the beleaguered
government of Prime Minister Brown. And Labour insiders fear that a
win for the Conservatives would provide the invigorated party with a
much needed boost, paving the way for a Conservative resurgence in
London. Livingstone's hopes for election victory may depend on
picking up the support of both the Liberal Democrat candidate and
the Green Party challenger. End Summary.

Poll Figures -- A Two Horse Race?
-------------------------------

2. (SBU) Thirteen candidates are running but, the main contenders
are "Ken" and "Boris," the Labour and Conservative party candidates
who are both on first name terms with the voters. Livingstone,
Mayor of London for eight years, is behind in the polls and under
pressure as the race enters its final weeks. Latest poll figures
put his conservative rival, Boris Johnson, at 45 per cent with
Livingstone close behind at 39 per cent. The candidates are
fighting it out on environmental issues, transport and economic
development. Livingstone's combative manner and ability to court
controversy, vote-winners in the past, appear this time to be
turning voters away. Critics say he is wandering far beyond the
issues of concern to a Mayor and he appears to be suffering by
association from Labour's dismal national poll ratings. Boris
Johnson, until now best known as a mistake-prone member of Britain's
elite, has defied expectations by surging ahead in the polls.
Johnson is campaigning as the candidate of "change" and, although
his campaign is accused of being thin on policies, he is picking up
support for being "not Ken" and for promising to get rid of the
congestion charge. But Boris's lead is shrinking: down from 13
points to six points in the last week.

Support of Other Candidates Vital
---------------------------------------

3. (SBU) Because of the complicated voting system, and the closeness
of the race, the spotlight is turning to the third-and fourth-placed
candidates: Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, currently at 13 per
cent, and Green Party Candidate Sian Berry, with just two per cent.
Neither are in contention themselves but voters get a first and a
second preference. And if no candidate gets 51 per cent first time
round, second preference votes may decide the election. So far,
Paddick has not backed either frontrunner, while Berry has urged her
supporters to vote for Ken.

The Candidates
--------------

4. (SBU) Livingstone says his record speaks for itself: London has
overtaken New York as the world's leading financial center, he
successfully introduced the world's first Congestion Charge (tax)
and, in 2012, London hosts the summer Olympics, all of which he
takes credit for.

5. (SBU) The signs are, though, that Ken has fallen out of favor
with Londoners. A well-known figure in London politics for more
than 20 years, Ken's initial popularity rested on his image as a
political maverick: Margaret Thatcher's Government and his own
party hated him in the '80s when he was known as "Red Ken" for his
extreme left-wing views. And his refusal to toe the party line
endeared him to Londoners who voted for him in droves when he ran as
an Independent candidate in London's first Mayoral elections in
2000, (Embassy note. Livingstone ran as independent because
then-Prime Minister Blair would not endorse him as Labour's
candidate. End note.) Now that Livingstone is seen as part of the
Labour establishment, he is having to fight hard to prevent the
Party's dismal national ratings from rubbing off on him. Labour's
big guns are out in force helping him campaign, as a Conservative
win would be a disaster for the Government, in the view of many
Labour party members. Although Labour dominates London politics,
many of its Parliamentary seats have wafer-thin majorities and would
be vulnerable to a resurgent Conservative Party.

6. (SBU) But Livingstone's popularity has fallen for other reasons.
His foreign policy forays have been unpopular -- from Livingstone's
outspoken criticisms of Israel, to recent ill-advised,
taxpayer-funded trips to Cuba and to Venezuela (including inviting
Chavez to London on a semi-state visit), as well as his welcoming
the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose organization is on
record as supporting the stoning of homosexuals. Then there are
claims of alleged corruption among some of Livingstone's close
aides, and a refusal by Livingstone to name his rich backers, some

LONDON 00001091 002 OF 003


of whom are wealthy property developers who stand to gain from the
Mayor's extensive planning powers. Critics in the media say that
the Mayoralty is being run as Livingstone's own personal fiefdom,
with a political agenda that goes far beyond his remit.

Boris: Gaffe-Prone, but Popular
--------------------------------
7. (SBU) Conservative candidate Boris de Pfeffel Johnson's
successful candidacy for the mayor of London has defied the laws of
political gravity. Johnson is best known as a mistake-prone former
journalist twice exposed for committing adultery, now a Conservative
MP. Johnson is also well known for apologizing: to the people of
Liverpool for accusing them of mawkish sentimentality following the
beheading of a resident of the city in Iraq; to the people of
Portsmouth after describing the town as "too full of drugs, (and)
obesity"; to the people of Papua New Guinea for associating them
"with orgies of cannibalism and chief-killing," and to the people of
Africa after remarking on their "watermelon smiles". He was also
sacked as a member of the Shadow Cabinet for lying about an
extra-marital affair.

8. (SBU) Despite this record, Johnson is a popular figure and has
built up a vast following in London. The Conservative leadership
and Boris' own handlers are limiting his public speeches and
appearances to minimize the risks of any foot-in-the-mouth gaffes by
their candidate and Johnson is trying hard to dispel the perception
that he is not a serious contender. But with his poll lead falling
from 13 points to six points in the last week, there are signs that
the Mayor's relentless focus on whether Johnson is competent enough
to run London may be beginning to have an impact.

Other Candidates
-----------------

9. (SBU) Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick, the highest ranking
openly-gay police officer in Scotland Yard until his retirement, is
best known for adopting a more relaxed police approach to soft drugs
during his tenure. Although Paddick is rising in the polls, he is
still way behind at 12 per cent. His central campaign message is
his promise to cut crime if elected -- opponents say he has no other
policies. And Sian Berry, standing on the Green Party ticket with
two per cent, is enjoying a high profile, if low numbers, as the
other main candidates vie to compete with her on their green
credentials.

Congestion, Crime, and Climate
------------------------------

10. (SBU) The Congestion Charge, the environment and crime are the
central issues in the campaign. Livingstone has pledged to increase
the already-controversial Congestion Charge, now copied by many
cities around the world, to #25 (approx. 50 USD) per day for the
worst polluting cars, and reduce it to zero for the least polluting
vehicles, a proposal which the Greens support. But the congestion
charge is not the universal vote-pleaser that it once was: despite
the charge, congestion in central London remains a problem, the
administration of the charge costs millions, and moves to push the
zone further westward across the city would be unpopular. Critics
say that the policy is now less about congestion and more about
revenue-raising. Boris Johnson opposes a price increase in the
charge or extension of the zone, saying it will hit business and
families, though he will not abolish the existing charge. Johnson
has also said he will rid the capital of another Livingstone
transportation initiative, the double-length (articulated)
'bendy-bus," which replaced some double-decker buses on the grounds
they were more efficient and are now universally reviled by
Londoners. The Liberal Democrats favour a carbon tax on new cars
instead of an increase in the congestion charge. The Greens want an
increase in the congestion charge.

Environment
-----------

11. (SBU) The environment is also a high-profile issue in the
campaign. Livingstone wants to extend the low-emission zone in
London to cover trucks over 3.5 tons and improve public buildings'
energy efficiency; Johnson has promised #6m (approx. 12 million USD)
to tackle graffiti and improve waste management. He will stop
backyard developments, plant 10,000 trees, and force City Hall to
buy in greener goods. He also supports a low-emission zone
extension. The Liberal Democrats and Greens both oppose expansion
of Heathrow Airport. The Greens want more investment in high speed
rail links, solar panels on 100,000 roofs by 2015 and free
insulation for all homes that need it.

Crime
-----

12. (SBU) Crime has become a high-profile issue. Although overall
rates of crime have lowered in the last decade, the increase in
juvenile violent crime, especially involving knives and guns, is a
hot-button topic. Livingstone has promised 1,000 extra police if

LONDON 00001091 003 OF 003


reelected, and to reduce crime by 6 per cent a year; Johnson wants
more police on buses, trains and in stations, and knife and gun
crime given priority. Brian Paddick says that cutting crime is his
top priority, that violent crime has soared and after more than 30
years as a policeman he is the only candidate with the experience to
cut gun and knife crime. He would hold the police accountable for
their performance, and pledged to cut crime by 20 per cent in four
years or not run again for Mayor. Sian Berry for the Greens has
called for more community policing.

Comment
-------

13. (SBU) With a UK general election not likely until 2010, the
effects of this race on the national political scene should not be
overstated, but it is clear there will be implications for both
parties, particularly Labour. A Livingstone defeat will, according
to one senior Labour MP "knock the Labour Party sideways" and
further weaken Brown's public image and standing with Labour
backbenchers (ref). A Johnson victory will empower the
Conservatives, further fuel the perception that public momentum is
on their side, and provide an institutional boost to their efforts
to win more parliamentary seats in London when national elections
are held. A Boris victory could prove a double-edged sword for
Cameron, however. A successful Boris Johnson will give the Tories a
chance to show off their policies in the UK's largest city, but if
the gaffe-prone Johnson "returns to form" despite his advisors' best
efforts," such gaffes will now be amplified across the UK and become
a bigger burden for the Tories to bear.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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