Agency heads say Livingstone is favourite for London mayor

Most public affairs agency bosses are backing Ken Livingstone to win next week's London mayoral race, a spot survey by PRWeek indicates.

Ten top lobbyists agreed to put their necks on the line by predicting the outcome of the 1 May election.

Seven backed Livingstone, with just three predicting a victory for Tory candidate Boris Johnson.

Bell Pottinger Public Affairs chair Peter Bingle, Hanover Communications MD Charles Lewington and DLA Piper director Eben Black all called it for Johnson.

Bingle and Black predicted Johnson would be buoyed by strong support in outer London, while Lewington said Johnson would 'edge home' with the help of Lib Dem second preference votes.

The other seven agency bosses predicted Livingstone would hang on for a third term with the help of second preferences. Two lobbyists - Sovereign Strategy MD Rory O'Neill and Insight Public Affairs MD John Lehal - suggested Livingstone would win comfortably.

O'Neill said: 'Ken will win by a bit more than most people expect. Boris is good on style but weak on substance... The London electorate knows everything has its price.'

Lehal envisaged Lib Dem and Green second preferences would be 'overwhelmingly' in favour of Livingstone. Other lobbyists were more cautious, but still opted for Livingstone. Weber Shandwick director Jon McLeod suggested Livingstone would win by a fraction, provided traditional Labour voters did not stay at home.

Open Road CEO Graham McMillan said: 'It will go to the wire... but there could be a Livingstone surge in the final week. Better the devil you know than someone whose competence is in doubt.'

Lexington Communications director Gidon Freeman said: 'Ken will win narrowly and mainly through second preferences.'

Fishburn Hedges associate director Simon Redfern said: 'It'll go to the wire but Ken will make it back.'

Edelman Public Affairs MD Alex Bigg said: 'Ken by a newt's tail. After a pretty dodgy start to his campaign, nice cuddly Ken seems to have re-emerged and perhaps done just enough to win.'

Mayoral Election Special, pp16-17, 19.

BORIS TO WIN - CHARLES LEWINGTON, MD, Hanover Communications

'I don't believe YouGov's 12 per cent lead for Boris but with one week to go I reckon he is five or six per cent ahead of Ken - enough to edge home with the help of more than the usual slice of Liberal Democrat second preference votes. In the last two elections, Ken under-delivered on his poll numbers and this Tory campaign is fearsomely well financed (how many letters from Boris have you had through your front door?). The race is tightening and it is Boris's to win or lose.'

KEN TO WIN - JOHN LEHAL, MD, Insight Public Affairs

'Boris may lead Ken on first preferences, but Ken will win thanks to the Lib Dem and Green second preferences, which will be overwhelmingly in his favour. We've seen Boris Johnson's support over-estimated, as internet polling has failed to accurately weight the lower socio-economic and ethnic votes where Ken has support. The London print media are against Ken but as scrutiny on Boris increases in the final week of campaigning, he will face more searching questions.'

KEN TO WIN JUST - JON MCLEOD, Director, Weber Shandwick

'Ken is gaining momentum at the right time. In the first preferences, Boris will edge it over Ken by two to three percentage points. When the second preference votes are counted in, it becomes more interesting and harder to call. Ken has done a smart deal with the Greens, but the Lib Dem vote is much less predictable. If Labour is successful at getting out the vote, then Ken wins it on second preferences, but potentially by just a fraction.'

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