OPINION: New campaign tactics in mayoral battle

This time last week I was thinking that a victory for Ken Livingstone over Boris Johnson in the London mayor race would be a stunning victory for him and his PR team.

Charlie Whelan
Charlie Whelan

This was because Ken has faced the most hostile media onslaught since Neil Kinnock was Labour leader. 

I do confess to being one of those people who have never warmed to Livingstone much, but like many millions of Londoners I simply couldn't bear the thought of our great capital city being run by a Tory buffoon.

My thoughts were similar to the Livingstone campaign team's initial thoughts, in that all we needed to do was to portray 'Bonking Boris' as some kind of comedian and Livingstone would be home and dry.

They miscalculated big time. For a start Johnson is a celebrity in his own right and in the new era of 'Big Brother' politics that is important. No matter what his politics, he has a certain attraction to many voters, particularly younger ones.

The counter argument to this is that young people don't vote much, but that aside, Livingstone's team realised a more sophisticated approach was needed to defeat Johnson.

First they needed to establish that Johnson was a real Tory, and secondly explain that Tory policies are bad news for Londoners.

Livingstone very cleverly got voters focusing on the fact that running London is a serious business and at the same time telling people in a fairly subtle way that the Tory candidate was a joker.

Livingstone's team's biggest battle, though, has been to deal with the fact that London's only newspaper, the Evening Standard, has been waging war against him. Never a day goes by without the Standard running a story attacking him.

Andrew Gilligan, not content with having got Blair off the hook with his 'shoot from the hip' line on the Iraq invasion, has now declared war on Livingstone.

On Livingstone's side was the fact that, for the first time ever, the unions have been targeting their members in a more sophisticated way.

They have been personally written to or telephoned by other members asking them to support a Labour mayor and that is far more effective than any huge cash donation.

What is also clear is that during these elections, the Livingstone campaign team has been forced to use techniques that bypass the mainstream media.

Regardless of the results of this fascinating battle, we now know to expect similar techniques in the future.

Email: charlie.whelan@haymarket.com  

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