I mean to say, by jingo! What in the wide world of sports were the London electorate thinking of?
First, let’s consider the national picture. It’s been clear for some years that the Labour vote was collapsing. What’s saved New Labour up to this point is that it’s largely collapsed into abstention. To the extent that traditional Labour voters have defected, they’ve gone all over the shop – to the Lib Dems in some areas, the BNP in others and so on. There hasn’t been a massive swing to the Tories. And I’m still not sure that there is – what’s happening seems to be that the traditional Tory base, after years of demoralisation, has become energised again. Plus, there’s Rankin’ Dave Cameron with his strategy of making the Tories as inoffensive as possible, so they aren’t in a position where the majority of the electorate hate their guts and will return even the most useless Labour government in order to keep them out.
So you ended up in London with a sort of dual Boris campaign. There was the official Boris campaign, with the candidate playing down his neo-Thatcherite politics, straining mightily to avoid gaffes, and apparently having no policies other than buying a shitload of new Routemaster buses. In fact, in the popular view BoJo was more or less eviscerated of any politics, and simply viewed as that amusing bloke off Have I Got News For You. Then you had the unofficial Boris campaign, aka the Daily Mail and Evil Standard, pitching squarely to mobilise the Tory base on a hard rightist basis. Which seems to have worked: there was a massive turnout in the Tory-voting suburbs, the UKIP vote collapsed towards the Tories, and they also managed to mop up a large chunk of right-leaning Lib Dems.
The optics of the thing were really quite fascinating. On crime, Boris made some modest noises about putting more PSCOs on the Tube. Meanwhile, the Evil Standard screeched that London was facing a tidal wave of violent crime, and it was all Ken’s fault. On race – and the whole election had a nasty racial overtone – the contrast was even sharper. Boris spent a lot of time living down his various politically incorrect remarks of the past, and stressing how proud he was of London’s great multiracial community. On the other hand, the Mail and Standard promised that Boris would end the ethnic gravy train at City Hall. Hence the prominence of the Lee Jasper saga. Actually, though I’m none too fond of Jasper, my view is that Lee Jasper-type figures are pretty much unavoidable in big multi-ethnic cities, and Boris is likely to acquire some Jaspers of his own.
So now London gazes into the uncharted future of a Boris administration. Given that the city has just replaced a competent and experienced city manager with someone whose only experience of administration relates to the Spectator drinks cabinet, it’s no wonder Cameron is nervous.
As for the Cheeky Chappie, there may be a few useful pointers here. It’s notable that Ken’s vote rose quite sharply as voters rallied to stop Boris. It’s also worth noting that not only did Ken outpoll the Labour Party, but the Labour vote as such held up much better in London than elsewhere. At a time when the New Labour coalition seems to have broken down, should we really be surprised that an old-fashioned left social democrat, who has made modest but tangible improvements to Londoners’ quality of life, should do relatively well when Labour as a whole has done appallingly? It’s something that Labour Party members might do well to consider.