OPINION: Spin might not save PR-maestro Livingstone

There are some politicians who don't need spin doctors because they are so brilliant at handling PR for themselves. London mayor Ken Livingstone is one such person.

Livingstone, or Ken as he has amazingly managed to persuade much of the media to call him, has spent decades molding his own image as a 'man of the people'.

His best-ever piece of spin was to convince a gullible press pack that he was a lover of newts - though, for the first time in his life, this has the potential to backfire. The only surprise is that tabloid headline-writers haven't played more on the 'pissed as a newt' theme as they report on his alleged involvement in a drunken party scuffle.

It seems incredible that until the alleged incident in May, Livingstone has managed to have nothing but broadly favourable media coverage since his days at the GLC, when he was laughably known as Red Ken. Even when two years ago Livingstone was caught not telling the House of Commons how much he earned on the side from after-dinner speaking, he never really suffered.

Livingstone probably always wanted to be Labour leader and prime minister but once he realised that this was never going to happen, he set his sights on being London mayor.

In his thirst for power, Livingstone was prepared to do anything to get the job. He told the Labour Party he would abide by its decision on who the candidate for mayor should be. But when he lost out to Frank Dobson he went back on his word and stood as an independent. The media would savage most politicians guilty of such treachery but Livingstone knew he could rely on them to back him against the Labour machine.

He now even has the nerve to apply to get back into the party - though his latest alleged escapade may thwart his plans.

As London mayor, Livingstone has had some responsibility for running things and you would have thought that no amount of good PR or spinning would compensate for his actual record.

It seems incredible that despite the fact Livingstone has done nothing since becoming mayor, he could even be considered for a second term. He promised to get rid of the pigeons in Trafalgar Square and they are still there. He couldn't even run a fireworks display last New Year's Eve.

Now, though, he may be in real trouble. Ever since the Evening Standard's political correspondent Patrick Hennessy broke the story about boozy events at the party Livingstone attended, he has had to fight to save his political career.

He has used every PR trick in the book to save his skin. Instead of just issuing a writ and taking the Standard to court he has cleverly decided that the best from of defence is attack. And the fightback hasn't just been aimed at the Standard, but has focused on its editor, Veronica Wadley.

Some broadcasters fell for this ploy hook, line and sinker by door-stepping her office and making a big play out of the fact she wasn't prepared to face the cameras. It was as if she was the one on trial, not Livingstone.

When Livingstone had to face the Greater London Assembly a couple of weeks ago, he even went so far as to say he was willing to take a lie detector knowing full well that they would never take him up on it. Unfortunately for Livingstone the News of the World did, but, when they tipped up outside his house with a lie machine, he declined to be tested.

During the next few weeks and months we will see if the master of his own spin survives. Although I hope he doesn't, my guess is that the media will prefer to keep him where he is and so he will survive.

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