Public Affairs: Boris was the mayoral jester, now it's Ken who is the April fool

Ken Livingstone's recent clumsy attempts to distance himself from Gordon Brown have backfired, says Olly Kendall.

Boris Johnson is supposed to be the court jester among the London mayoral hopefuls. But over the past few weeks his campaign chief Lynton Crosby has kept a vice-like grip on Johnson's media movements, pausing only to let him on Newsnight this week. Consequently, the gaffes have been minimal.

Not so for Ken Livingstone. Take his recent internet video, and the release of an out-take in which he claims that his proudest political moment was 'taking on and smashing the New Labour machine in 2000'. His campaign team claimed this was an April Fool's joke. In reality, it is a PR blunder that has further reinforced perceptions that the Mayor is out of touch with Londoners.

Livingstone's poll ratings have dropped at the same time as Labour's national poll ratings have plummeted. The internet video was Livingstone's attempt to put murky blue water between the mayoral contest and Westminster politics without being seen to seriously sour relations with the party that is helping to bankroll his re-election campaign.

He knows that the conflation in voters' minds between the perceived arrogance of ten years of Labour rule and the complacency of Livingstone's eight years in City Hall is devastating.

But Ken wants it both ways. He wants the power and finances that being part of the Labour machine affords him and yet he still wants to be seen as a maverick, an independent and an outsider.

He can't have his cake and eat it. If Livingstone were an independent his team's decision to release this video would be an act of unabashed confidence. But as Labour's candidate, this is an ill-judged attempt to distance himself from his ailing Westminster party.

It is a risky throw of the dice. And incredibly, for the first time since campaigning began, it has divested Johnson of his jester's hat. The joke is on Livingstone.

Olly Kendall is an account manager at Insight Public Affairs and a former press adviser to Charles Kennedy.

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