FEATURE: PR is top priority in race for London leadership - As the race to become mayor of London hots up, Robert Gray looks at the campaigns and PR plans of the four leading contenders

Next week Londoners go to the polls to vote for the capital’s first ever democratically- elected mayor. Although 11 candidates are standing, in truth only four have a serious chance: the three backed by the UK’s major political parties, and independent Ken Livingstone.

Next week Londoners go to the polls to vote for the capital’s first

ever democratically- elected mayor. Although 11 candidates are standing,

in truth only four have a serious chance: the three backed by the UK’s

major political parties, and independent Ken Livingstone.

Precisely how much power whoever is chosen as mayor will ultimately

enjoy is far from clear, but the job is certainly no sinecure. The

creation of a politicised, publicly-accountable London mayor is a

genuine exercise in devolution. He or she will have responsibility for a

huge range of issues in one of the world’s great cities: transport,

planning, economic development, environment, police, fire and emergency

planning, health, culture, road use and workplace parking charges as

well as tourism.

The mayor will have to work with central Government and an assembly of

25 elected members. Together the mayor and the assembly will form a new

government for London, the GLA. The assembly’s job is to scrutinise the

mayor’s plans for tackling London’s problems and to provide checks and

balances on budgetary issues - the mayor will oversee a budget in excess

of pounds 3 billion. Assembly members will also be appointed to help run

some newly-created bodies - such as the Metropolitan Police Authority -

and other key public bodies.

Among the many challenges the winner will face will be the communication

and explication of policies and change. A high-profile, hard-fought

election campaign has ensured that the media and the public will pay

close attention to the victor’s actions. In trying to reach audiences as

diverse as City bankers and those on the poverty line, environmentalists

and public servants, PR will be key.

The mayoral race has grabbed acres of headlines in the London media, but

its stories have proved irresistible to the national media as well.

A major factor in this has been the Livingstone affair. The former GLC

leader’s decision to stand as an independent after being frozen out by

the Labour Party machine has added spice to what may otherwise have been

a fairly humdrum contest. It has also caused huge PR problems for

official Labour candidate Frank Dobson.

Fairly or not, he has had to contend with the perception of being Tony

Blair’s poodle. Matters have not been helped by the fact that, although

Dobson has had his own press officers in the shape of Mark Covell, Rob

Yeldham and Alice Hunt, as the campaign has progressed Labour’s

communications team at Millbank under Phil Murphy have taken on more of

an active role.

Covell and Yeldham, plus events organiser Hilary Perrin, who has

arranged many of his photo opportunities, have been seconded from the

Labour Party.

’Dobson has suffered from having two PR operations,’ says Independent

political correspondent Paul Waugh. And the London Evening Standard’s

political correspondent Patrick Hennessy adds: ’One of the problems

Frank has faced is that it’s difficult to know who’s in charge. Is it

Millbank or Dobson’s team?’

In contrast, Livingstone’s campaign has been run on a shoestring. It has

sometimes appeared haphazard and chaotic, and PR gaffes such as his

comments in an NME interview that global capitalism has been responsible

for millions of deaths have provoked harsh criticism, and raised

questions as to his suitability for the job. Yet the opinion polls

continue to show he has wide-ranging public support, including from the

black and Asian community, and environmentalists. Given the fascination

the media has shown for his unconventional campaign, including coverage

of the high profile All Back To Ken’s fund-raising bash at the Astoria,

featuring luminaries such as DJ Fatboy Slim, generating awareness has

been the least of his problems.

The battle between old and new Labour has meant that the other two

candidates - Conservative Steven Norris and Liberal Democrat Susan

Kramer - have had to work harder to make an impression. The Kramer camp

has adopted a range of tactics to get its message across, including

heavy use of photo opportunities, such as launching a sports policy at

the Oval and its policy for motorcycles, with a picture of Kramer on the

back of a Harley Davidson.

There has been some use of advertising, including postcard distribution

in over 200 bars and cafes across the capital.

’The difficulty has been for Kramer and Norris to get heard,’ says


’But Kramer has been pretty effective at getting messages over and

tipping us off about policy initiatives. Unlike the others, she’s not an

established politician but she has come across as coherent. Norris has

suffered from being Norris - a laid-back charmer. His campaign was

lackadaisical at first. He was dubbed ’no-show Norris’ for not turning

up to a couple of events early on. But it has become a lot more


Norris’ campaign director Ceri Evans says: ’To be honest, the strength

of our press operation is that people know they can get us when they

need a response. We haven’t been bombarding them with an Amazon

rainforest of press releases every day.’

As befits a 21st century campaign, the new media have been involved as

much as the press and broadcast media. This Is London, Associated New

Media’s on-line sister title to the Evening Standard, is giving the

public access to digitised, 60-second video clips of each candidate

talking about key points in their manifesto on its election microsite.

Each clip, put together by webcasting specialist CTN, can be downloaded

from This is London in seconds.

When Londoners cast their votes next week, it will be at the end of a

remarkable election campaign.


’The mayoral election campaign in London has been the longest election

campaign ever in the UK,’ says Frank Dobson’s campaign manager Jeremy

Fraser. ’Our strategy has therefore been to play a long game -

repeatedly raising the key issue of who Londoners can trust and

promoting Frank’s policies on the three principal areas which matter to

Londoners: tackling crime, creating jobs and modernising public

transport.’ Communications will continue to focus on these areas should

Dobson be elected. Dobson also sees those responsible for financing

important projects within the UK and EC as a vital audience. So too is

the international business community whom Dobson intends to target with

positive messages about London as part of his strategy for generating


Among Dobson’s pledges, should he win, are a commitment to create

100,000 jobs, and an end to the ’exclusion’ of young, black Londoners.

He has also promised that drug dealers will be swept off the street;

10,000 affordable new homes will be provided for nurses, teachers and

police officers; the introduction of a London Lottery; and a freeze on

council tax.

Although PR is considered key, the Dobson camp does not expect the mayor

to have a large communications department. ’He will have a small private

office with special advisers who can advise him on presentation,’ says

Fraser. ’We have yet to discuss this with the GLA shadow organisation,

but expect there will be a small communications department which would

be part of the GLA establishment, in the same way that local authorities

or Government agencies have PR resources.’ Communication channels used

in the campaign include leaflet door drops - some of which have been

tied in to the delivery of literature promoting Labour’s London Assembly

candidates - and local and regional print advertising.

There has also been internet activity on www.frank-dobson.org.uk and its

linked site www.london-labour.org.uk which share some content.

Registered users of the sites have been sent e-mails with campaign


Fraser expects assembly members to have their own views about how PR

should be handled, but adds: ’I would assume that the general model

which operates in local government would apply - the professional

officers of the authority would provide non-political support but the

political groups of the assembly would have their own staff in

proportion to their relative strengths. This will have to be discussed

with assembly members immediately following the election.’


Liberal Democrat candidate Susan Kramer considers rescuing public

transport to be her ’first priority’ as mayor. She sees good management

and proper investment as fundamental to the task and intends to raise

the billions of pounds necessary for modernisation by turning to the

financial markets and raising revenue bonds. Clearly, this makes the

City an important audience, and one that she can relate to, thanks to

her background in banking.

However, accountability to the public remains paramount and PR aimed at

London’s various communities has been prominent. Having called for more

community police and committed herself to revitalising high streets

across the capital, communications programmes, pointing at tangible

improvements at a local level will be necessary.

’A strong communications team within the GLA is vital because of the

importance of being accountable rather than selling our message to the

public,’ says Kramer. ’In terms of selecting my communications team I

will choose on merit and look for good ideas.’ Kramer intends to use the

mayor’s regeneration budget to improve housing and create provision for

training, health clinics, childcare centres and youth services. As

regeneration requires jobs she proposes to initiate a network of

’community banks’ to revive the shops on ’dying high streets’ and to

start up new small businesses.

This focus on community has been central to the Kramer campaign. One of

the key tactics has been a series of high street walks across London,

publicised in advance on the www.susankramer.org web site.

Kramer’s media officer Charlotte Barraclough says the walks have been

successful at raising the candidate’s profile in a ’systematic way’

through local press and radio stations. Gauging public opinion on these

walks has played a part in defining the issues that most affect


The walks have been ’central to the campaign,’ says Kramer. ’They have,’

she adds, ’shown us you serve Londoners best by listening.’ Crime

reduction is a central tenet of the Kramer manifesto. It is likely

therefore that the Home Office will be a communications target as part

of a lobbying campaign to increase Metropolitan Police numbers.

Moreover, Kramer has said she wants back-up for the Met in the shape of

a new force of 1,000 community safety constables. This involves taking

local government workers - such as traffic wardens and park rangers -

and giving them training and responsibility to watch out for the safety

of the community.


’Communication for the mayor must reflect the fact that this is a

partnership. There isn’t another relationship like there will be between

the mayor and people of London in Britain,’ says Steve Norris’ campaign

director Ceri Evans.

Transport and policing are the two areas that Norris and his team

envisage being the most important for the mayor. Norris has said he will

not impose congestion taxes or workplace parking charges on Londoners,

and intends to lobby for an increase of 6,000 Metropolitan Police staff

over the next four years. He wants to act as a ’broker’ between central

Government, the private sector and London’s 33 boroughs to identify

brownfield sites that can be used to build affordable housing, and will

push for increases in the salaries of the capital’s police, teachers and


Among Norris’ communications tasks will be talking to small businesses

and entrepreneurs about the creation of a business task force, designed

to reduce red tape. The work of the London Development Agency is to be

prioritised so that its key focus is inward investment and economic


By the end of his first term Norris has said that he wants to have made

London ’a city in which homelessness is a thing of the past, and

aggressive begging is not an option’.

He has committed himself to ensuring half the posts in the GLA will go

to women and at least a third to candidates from the ethnic


Norris plans to hold meetings in every part of London, answer questions

from the public on a London radio station each week, post mayoral

decisions on an official web site, and establish a telephone hotline and

system for answering e-mail questions.

Norris has fought his campaign on the slogan ’Action Not Politics’ but,

in common with all the other candidates, he has not been averse to some

political point-scoring. Around two-thirds of his advertising has

focused on what he stands for, but the rest has contrasted his stance on

issues such as drugs, business and bogus asylum seekers with quotes from


’We fixed on Livingstone because he is the person to beat,’ says


’Our ads use his actual words. We have not embellished them in any way.’

Together with press secretary Justin McLaren, Evans has tried to respond

quickly to media enquiries and announcements from rival candidates to

maximise coverage for Norris. They produced placards reading ’Frankly,

what’s the point?’ to taunt Dobson and his team. Campaign bus tours,

leaflet drops and a web site at www.norrisforlondon. com have also

featured on the hustings.


As an independent candidate Ken Livingstone’s likely communications

strategy should he achieve the overwhelming endorsement of the

electorate is the hardest to read. This uncertainty has been exacerbated

by a campaign fought on limited resources.

Yet Livingstone remains the arch-populist, using the force of his

personality to compensate for the absence of a supporting party machine.

His charisma will be an asset in the presentation of crowd-pleasing

initiatives, but PR structures and techniques are also likely to play a

part in minimising the repercussions of his often controversial


’The mayor has to communicate with London. There will be a team of

people to help him do that in the GLA,’ says Livingstone’s press

secretary Emma St Giles.

She is unwilling to identify which audiences would be key were

Livingstone to become mayor. The glee with which the media and his

opponents seized upon his provocative comments about capitalism in an

NME interview - in which he accused international financial institutions

of killing more people than World War II - have caused more wariness in

the Livingstone camp and some courting of the FT.

His manifesto pledges open and transparent government for London. He

intends to publish a Freedom of Information code for the GLA,

guaranteeing public access to all key documents and information. There

is to be a web site, london-mayor.com, providing information on the GLA.

The site will also host webcasts and on-line debates, including an

annual State of London debate.

An independent and inclusive consultative body called the London Civic

Forum would represent the private, public and voluntary sectors,

London’s faith communities and the Black Londoners Forum. Its functions

will include organising and host a People’s Question Time where the

mayor and assembly members can be questioned about their actions and


Livingstone is opposed to organised lobbying. His manifesto says that

lobbyists will not be given passes to GLA headquarters nor be allowed to

meet with GLA staff.

A key strand of the communications strategy tackles transport.

Livingstone’s views on the London Underground are well known and were

reinforced during his campaign by billboard advertising, created by Euro

RSCG Wnek Gosper.

As the campaign draws to a close, Livingstone’s team has toured London

in a purple open-top double decker bus . Posters, stickers and badges

are available from Livingstone’s web site at


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