Local election day in Britain this year is likely to see the Conservative Party lose hundreds of council seats across England, Scotland and Wales. One result that might bring the Tories some good news however is that of the Greater London Assembly with Boris Johnson predicted to win a second term. Yes, it seems as though the gaffe-prone, floppy-haired incumbent mayor known almost exclusively by his first name has pulled it off again.
In theory, Boris should be completely unelectable with his eccentricity best suited for guest appearances on ‘Have I Got News For You’ rather than serious debates at City Hall. Yet he has shocked just about everyone by not only being elected Mayor of London in 2008 but also by not visibly destroying the city over the last four years in the run up to the Olympic Games. Even the problems that did arise like the Ray Lewis scandal and Sir Ian Blair’s resignation have been largely forgotten or forgiven by the voting public. Boris’s cult of personality is such that the only things most people remember about him are his gaffes such as falling in a river whilst launching a volunteering campaign. While he probably does play up to the media a bit, I’m fairly sure that most of the time Boris is just being himself. Hell, even the way he awkwardly waved the flag at the closing ceremony in Beijing was somehow typically just ‘Boris’.
Some have even tipped Boris as a future Prime Minister. It’s true that he has had an unlikely political journey so far but I think that prediction might be a little too far-fetched. His policies are far less scrutinised now than they would be if he ran for higher office. Yes, the public has been thoroughly entertained by Boris but as far as general elections go, voters do usually plump for someone who elicits some form of serious authority. This is before we even consider the main obstacle in place which is that he doesn’t currently have a seat in the House of Commons. No doubt that he would win one back if he wanted to though.
His main opponent, Ken Livingstone, is still one of the most polarising figures in the Labour Party but is undoubtedly seen as a ‘real’ Londoner with a passion for the city that Boris doesn’t convincingly exude. He also knows what he’s talking about having had vast amounts of experience on the GLC as well as two previous terms as Mayor in 2000-2008. But while his policy of cutting transport fares will certainly please commuters, it gives the impression that Red Ken is in denial about the economic situation facing the country today. Moreover, Boris’s strategy of targeting the suburban constituencies cost Ken dearly in the previous election and today’s result largely hangs on whether he has succeeded in pulling this off again.
Boris and Red Ken are both one-offs in their respective political parties. The difference is that Boris is far more popular than the Conservative Party while Red Ken is almost definitely not more popular than the Labour Party right now (and not even that popular inside the party for that matter). Ironically, Boris is a Tory and is profoundly unashamed of it whereas David Cameron is a Tory but is constantly apologising for it. Without denying the fact that the Mayor of London does have some significant powers, it is essentially still a symbolic position and so the election is largely fought on the grounds of personality rather than policy. For that reason alone, Boris is almost certain to be re-elected.