Ken Livingstone must move from personality to policy, say comms consultants

Ken Livingstone will have to move the debate away from personality and on to policy if he is to have a chance in London's mayoral elections, comms experts have said.

Ken Livingstone: advised to move the debate away from personality and on to policy
Ken Livingstone: advised to move the debate away from personality and on to policy

With election day on 3 May looming, Conservative incumbent Boris Johnson has regained the advantage in the polls following positive signs for his Labour rival earlier this year.

The reversal in fortunes follows recent heated exchanges between the pair, and questions being raised over supposed hypocrisy around Livingstone’s tax dealings.

And in this week’s PRWeek podcast, Insight Public Affairs consultant Ed McRandal pointed to the need for Livingstone to steer the debate back to issues.

‘The simple truth is if you have a debate between Ken the person and Boris the person, Boris has the kind of persona that not only beats Ken but is also better than his own party and is better than most politicians in the country as a whole.

‘The Ken camp needs to get the media focus and people talking about how they can help transport, what you would do with policing and what you would do post-riots for social cohesion.’

Third City co-founder Mark Lowe agreed, but pointed out that the very nature of the mayoral elections was one that focused on the character of the candidate because the power of the role ‘is the power to persuade'.

Calling Johnson ‘a one-man detoxification machine’ for the Conservative brand, he pointed to what he saw as an irony within the electoral battle.

This, he said, involved Livingstone, once seen as the ‘anti-establishment candidate’, having lost that image now that Labour is out of government.  

In recent weeks independent candidate Siobhan Benita claimed she had been systematically excluded from BBC coverage around the elections after being left out of Newsnight debates.

However, it was a focus on personalities, as well as the domination of the two candidates in much mainstream media coverage, that would make it difficult for other candidates to compete, added Lowe.

'So much depends on personality and the ability of the candidate to project their persona and charisma, and unless they can do that and there's a strong idea and theme around the candidate themselves, whatever channel you use isn't going to matter.'

To watch the podcast, click here.

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