Tag Archive | "london elections"

Labour has designs on the City (7 February 2009)

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Labour has designs on the City (7 February 2009)

Posted on 07 February 2009 by admin

The 2009 City of London elections will, for the first time, be contested on a party basis. Does Labour stand a chance?

Labour launched its 2009 local government election campaign on 4 February. This was not a ridiculously early start for the county council elections in June – the elections for the common council of the City of London are in March. The date is not the only weird aspect to the City elections. It is a unique local authority, in that its 9,000 or so residents share the right to vote with businesses. Labour expanded the franchise in 2002 so that a certain number of City workers, as well as business owners, have the vote. The City has 25 wards, with old-fashioned names like Cordwainer and Candlewick, electing 100 members of the common council. Most of the resident population is concentrated in three wards, with the other 22 having mostly business voters.

City government is probably best described as a benevolent dictatorship. The City of London Corporation (CLC) is, despite its medieval pageantry and layers of tradition, a modern and efficient local authority which runs high quality local services and deals well with its extraordinary task of catering for about 300,000 workers who flood in and out every weekday as well as its small resident population. It also has several legacy roles such as landlord of social housing well outside its borders, and custodian of Hampstead Heath and Epping Forest, which are also by and large carried out with unobtrusive efficiency.

The CLC is at the centre of a quiet, discreet network of power and influence. It is taken very seriously nationally and internationally when it speaks on behalf of the financial sector – it was a crucial voice for the long-delayed Crossrail project, for instance. Despite the current woes of the financial sector, it still looms large in the calculations of the future of London and the British economy. However, a lot of the elected element of City government is opaque rather than transparent; some members of common council have but the most tenuous connection with the present life of the City, and old boy networks and Buggins’s turn play more of a part in City government than in most provincial backwaters. Despite having more “elected” representatives than anyone else in Britain, the inhabitants of the City face something of a democratic deficit.

The 2009 elections will be the first time that any City elections have been contested on a party basis. Up until now, candidates have stood as independents and very often, particularly in the business wards, there have not been contested elections at all. Labour’s six candidates are therefore making a little bit of history. Six people are obviously not enough to win control, but City of London Labour have produced a manifesto outlining their priorities, which are about enforcing the London living wage on City contractors, more environmentally friendly policies (the most visible outward sign of how much needs to be done being the lights blazing all night in City office towers), and more transparent governance. Having a manifesto is itself something of a new development in the politics of the City. The aim is influence, rather than power.

Do the City Labour candidates stand a chance? One might think that the City population consists entirely of wealthy bankers in their weekday pieds-a-terre, but as well as luxury flats there are some more ordinary flats and even a couple of pleasant local authority estates such as Golden Lane just north of the Barbican. In the 2008 mayoral elections, Ken Livingstone polled a creditable 32% of the City vote, to 48% for Boris Johnson, so there is clearly potential for a Labour vote in the residential wards. The business vote is more of an unknown quantity, and campaigning for votes among the nominated business franchise holders will be a new experience for political campaigners. But this will be one election campaign, at least, in which vituperative rhetoric against the sins of City fat cats is unlikely to play well.


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Getting over the London blues (24 September 2008)

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Getting over the London blues (24 September 2008)

Posted on 24 September 2008 by admin

The mayoral defeat was painful for Labour, but urban voting patterns mean the Tories shouldn’t assume it means more success

At a Progress fringe meeting this week, Labour delegates in Manchester examined the London elections last May with a mixture of pain and pleasure. The pain was of course in the loss of the mayoralty, and the resulting self-criticism of the language, tactics and apparent deafness to the concerns of many white and outer London voters. The pleasure was in the gain of an assembly seat, and in what was generally acclaimed as a professionally organised campaign that had got activists enthusiastic in a way that is unusual in Labour politics (and contrasted with the paralysis of the will that prevails this week in Manchester).

As well as the surface politics of the London elections, there were some intriguing fragments of information in which deeper currents could be glimpsed, provided by Ben Page of the polling organisation Ipsos-Mori. These left me thinking as much about the Conservatives as Labour.

Ipsos-Mori’s research on local government suggest that levels of “unhappiness” – fear of crime, dissatisfaction with local services and the council’s record, and a perception of dirt and squalor – are highest in the outer London boroughs, with Croydon and Harrow leading the way. People in inner London seem by contrast relatively happy with their lot.

As early as 2002, the Conservatives under Iain Duncan Smith did relatively well in some outer London boroughs, regaining Barnet, Redbridge and Enfield. Their campaign in these boroughs tapped into a sense that the areas were in decline, becoming more inner city and chaotic. It would be inaccurate to see this merely as a coded appeal to racism, although no doubt susceptible voters did hear a dog-whistle. The main aim was more about tapping into a sense of a lost dream among London suburban voters of a clean, green place with families living in large houses, good public services and a sense of (perhaps stifling) social order. In voting Conservative in local elections in 2002 and 2006, and in such numbers for Boris Johnson in 2008, suburbanites (including the working class suburbanites of Dagenham, and other outer London council-built areas) are saying that they do not like the current state of their suburbs very much, and haven’t felt that Labour cares very much about it.

While many suburban voters feel that they are losing what they initially found attractive in their communities, inner Londoners have often made a conscious choice to come to a place that fits their aspirations. This applies to the people who have come from all over the world to live and work in London, and for instance to the affluent inhabitants of Camden Town or Islington who prefer urban life to the calm of the suburbs. This in turn displaces people who would like to live in inner London, but cannot afford it (recent immigrants and the young) further out to cheaper suburban areas. Population turnover is so high in the inner city that people, to some extent, are sorted into places that suit them. The same is not true of the suburbs, where older established voters (including those who moved there as recently as the 1990s) have seen their areas change before their eyes. In Bexley and Bromley, which turned in a massive vote for Johnson in 2008, there has been anxiety about ending up like Croydon or Lewisham.

Urban politics in a city on the scale of London messy and complicated. The task of maintaining a complicated rainbow coalition of competing interests without alienating any of them, or indeed arousing too much reaction from the white working and middle classes, is a tricky job to pull off, and the strains were clearly showing in Ken Livingstone’s second term with rows over the London Development Agency’s policies, Lee Jasper and Yusuf al-Qaradawi among others. London is, after all, still majority white and majority suburban, and assembling a winning vote for Labour on this basis is tricky. Livingstone and the Labour Assembly group pioneered some interesting new political approaches – in the first term, with Livingstone governing as an Independent, and in the second term with the City Hall alliance of Labour and Green facilitated by the proportional electoral system. Labour needs some new political skills – an inclusive, coalition-building approach and the ditching of old ambitions of monolithic control – to manage it.

There is no long term future for the Conservatives in a politics of suburban backlash. Little can be done about the broad trends, and by winning local elections a party becomes part of the perceived problem rather than part of the solution. The Conservatives now control most suburban boroughs, and in 2006 there was a swing to Labour in Enfield and a mediocre result in Barnet – four years of Tory control had not slowed the rate of change much. The Conservatives run Croydon, Merton and Harrow after the 2006 elections and it would not be surprising if they underperform in 2010.

But there is an alternative. The Republicans have won every New York mayoral election since 1993 with a formula of fiscal discipline, tough language (and achievement) on reducing crime, efficiency and social tolerance, and to some extent this has been a winning Conservative formula in the inner London boroughs like Westminster, Wandsworth and Kensington & Chelsea which they control. But New York remains a very left-wing city in all other elections from president to borough council, and the fact remains that there is huge tension between what is needed to win in New York and the nature of the wider Republican Party. Michael Bloomberg, after all, was always a pretty nominal Republican and went independent in 2007. Perhaps there is something structural, as well as personal, in the speculation about a rift between Johnson and Cameron, but these are early days and it may take Tory control at both national and London level to reveal the potential for division.


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Poll position (1 May 2008)

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Poll position (1 May 2008)

Posted on 01 May 2008 by admin

London elections 08: It’s been a hard-fought, close-run race in the mayoral election and a great deal is at stake – and that’s just for the pollsters

Polls on the London mayoral election have divided into two types – YouGov’s and everyone else’s. YouGov has consistently shown Boris Johnson with a sizeable lead, while the other polling companies have shown the race to be more or less neck-and-neck. As well as the actual election, there is something resembling an election within the opinion-polling industry as two contrasting methods of sampling public opinion fight it out.

A lot of well-established pollsters would love to see YouGov come a cropper; it is a brash, media-savvy outfit which has trumpeted a record of relatively accurate polling in public elections and even television show votes, and whose method (asking its panel for opinions via the internet) contrasts with the telephone or in-person polling as practised by most of the others. The anonymity of the net may produce less inhibited, or more considered, answers than person-to-person interviews, but getting a really representative sample requires quite a bit of weighting and tweaking. The same, to some extent, is true of person-to-person polling. Pollsters now need to get two things right – a good sample, and an accurate set of adjustments.

Polling is perhaps particularly difficult in London, with its enormous diversity, fast-changing population and Britain’s largest proportion of people eligible but unregistered to vote. Pollsters also have to screen for likely turnout, estimates of which range widely between the 37% reached last time to a scarcely credible 60%. Then, because the second preferences of people who voted other than for the top two will be reallocated, they need to get a representative view on how the Lib Dems, Greens and others will line up in the final stage of the count, which is difficult on a small sample.

Boris Johnson has to win pretty big for YouGov to have bragging rights about this election. Their mayoral campaign polls put him between six and 13 points ahead, and their last poll indicated a margin of 7 points. If the result is Johnson by more than six points, YouGov can chalk up the impressive feat of polling in an election in very difficult territory for pollsters. More conventional polling companies would need to ask themselves why they had the election so wrong, as the excuse of a late swing is probably not available, in contrast to the last big polling fiasco of 1992.

A Livingstone win, on the other hand, would vindicate Ipsos Mori and ICM, which have shown the late stage of the race to be extremely close. It would certainly not discredit YouGov, or internet polling, but it would at least require a bit of a rethink of its sampling and weighting techniques. However, a Johnson win by something like two to five percentage points would leave the clash of the pollsters unresolved.


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In poll position (3 April 2008)

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In poll position (3 April 2008)

Posted on 03 April 2008 by admin

London elections 08: So far, the opinion polls have varied widely on the winners’ margin. Why is that?

The ICM poll showing Boris Johnson narrowly ahead of Ken Livingstone in the contest to be mayor of London is welcome news for Labour, who had feared that the contest was slipping away after two YouGov polls had shown Johnson 12 and 10 points in the lead. Has there been a pro-Livingstone swing, or is one or other of the polls just wrong?

Opinion poll methodology is an abstruse field, and blundering into it unwarily is dangerous, but the striking difference between the two polls may be something to do with how the polls were taken. Getting London – a vast, diverse place where the voters move around more frequently then elsewhere – right in polling terms is a challenge. Both ICM and YouGov are respectable and professional firms that try to get the answer right – the fact that YouGov’s client is the vehemently anti-Livingstone Evening Standard does not affect the way the pollsters do their job.

Sampling for YouGov was taken over the Easter weekend, and holiday times sometimes produce funny numbers (although a YouGov poll taken the previous week also produced a similar topline result). But there are some other issues. ICM ensured that ethnic minority voters were represented in the poll in proportion to the population in London (29% is the official number), and this is important because black and minority ethnic voters are particularly pro-Livingstone.

Some of the differences in weighting are also interesting. YouGov did not adjust for likely turnout. Does anyone expect, as the first YouGov poll implies, that for every three votes cast by people aged 45-54 there will be five cast by people aged 18-24? London may have a young population, but no real election, with the possible exception of one or two of the Democratic primaries this year, shows that sort of turnout pattern. However, ICM’s sample showed Johnson further ahead (48-40) among people who claimed to be certain to vote, so Labour cannot assume that the army of young pro-Johnson voters found by YouGov is entirely illusory.

There are staggering differences in the detail of ICM and YouGov, with YouGov finding that women were more pro-Johnson than men (a 14-point lead, rather than six-point) and ICM the reverse – men giving Johnson an 11-point lead but women giving him an eight-point deficit. The last YouGov poll shows that more people who identify with the Liberal Democrats intend to vote for Johnson (40%) than their own party’s candidate Brian Paddick (31%) which although possible seems peculiar and implies a 7% swing of Lib Dems from Paddick to Johnson in a period of just over a week since their previous poll.

The past two mayoral elections have seen unusual constellations of voters. In 2004 Livingstone’s strength was in inner London, even in areas that are normally Conservative or Lib Dem. He won all but one ward in Camden, for instance, even leading in the upper middle class heights of Hampstead Town. Steve Norris polled best in the outer boroughs, many of which are ambivalent about their allegiance to “London”. Johnson seems, whichever poll one looks at, to have maintained the Conservative advantage in outer London and pulled away some non-Labour voters in inner London who supported Livingstone in 2004. Interestingly, YouGov finds Labour’s vote in the assembly election pretty much identical to Livingstone’s support, also suggesting that Livingstone’s vote this time will be a more conventional Labour party coalition of support.

The polls are also consistent in showing that Johnson is doing better in the contest for Lib Dem second preferences, in marked contrast to 2004, when Livingstone tended to benefit. This reflects Johnson’s greater crossover appeal, Livingstone’s accumulated discontents of eight years in office, and the closer relations between Lib Dems and Tories in London. The two parties run several boroughs in coalition and work together on the Greater London Assembly in opposition to an informal Labour-Green alliance.

Livingstone has had a rotten few weeks. Labour’s national popularity has sagged badly in several polls, with the Conservatives taking a strong national lead that is also reflected in Londoners’ voting intentions. Closer to home, there has been the resignation of two of his City Hall advisers, including Lee Jasper, under clouds of suspicion, something that has encouraged a “time for a change” feeling. Voters who dislike the apparent cronyism of Livingstone’s City Hall and distrust his honesty and currently intend to vote for Johnson may not feel the same after a look at Johnson’s own chequered record in precisely these matters. Livingstone also has formidable basic strength in public opinion, in that he is regarded even by people not currently intending to vote for him as having done a good job as mayor. His specific policies attract more support than Johnson’s on issues such as the congestion charge and public transport. Livingstone is also articulate and clear on detail, while Johnson is not. While Johnson has done enough to dispel the impression that the campaign is merely an exercise in vanity, he still looks flimsy on detail and competence and is being kept out of the way by his hard-right Australian campaign adviser Lynton Crosby.

Polls, whatever technical issues may arise and however they are reported, are more reliable than the only alternatives – self-interested claims by the parties, and the water-divining approach to public opinion by which a journalist sniffs the air and gets a “feel” for how it is going. If ICM had shown a Johnson lead even half as large as YouGov’s, it would be tempting to claim that the race was already over. Defeatism was starting to pervade Labour’s approach to the campaign. The new poll should dispel that, and if the party knows what it is doing, prompt a vigorous fightback that has every chance of success. Livingstone’s choice is to give up wearily but gracefully – which has looked a possibility – or hammer Johnson on policies and personal competence. Labour needs to energise its difficult to reach electorate, and the closer and more publicised the election, the better for them. Johnson, Crosby and the Evening Standard – salivating at the chance to inflict a fatal blow in its long vendetta against Livingstone – are not going to play nice either. With so much at stake, and (according to ICM at least) still all to fight for, it will be a brutal April in London politics.


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