1 May 2012

On the stump with Boris and Ken

The camera phone is transforming campaigning in British politics.

I was out this lunchtime with Boris Johnson in Bexleyheath shopping centre in south east London, where he was almost mobbed by passing members of the public.  Many of them wanted his autograph on campaign leaflets, or on any old scrap of paper they could find – or in one case on a Bible.  One young woman offered him her mobile phone number (an offer Johnson didn’t pursue, though I mischievously suggested to him that she looked his type).  And vast numbers of people asked him to pose together for photos on their iphones or Blackberries.

There must have been at least 100 such pictures taken in just 20-30 minutes.  Many will make their way onto Facebook sites, or be shown off to family and friends.  At times it was hard for the candidate to do anything else, though at one point he managed to climb on a bench and deliver a good old-fashioned campaign speech.

For most of the Bexleyheath public it was the thrill of being with a celebrity, but there was politics too.  One woman asked Johnson what he would do to help autistic children such as her teenage son.  “Why don’t you tell me what would you think should be done,” a concerned Johnson skillfully replied.  He was suddenly rescued by the local MP David Evenett who interjected to say it was a “national” issue, and whisked the woman away.

Many of those crowding round Johnson and seeking pictures with Boris didn’t seem obvious Tory voters.  Although Bexleyheath has a Conservative MP, many of those in the shopping centre seemed to be working class and likely Labour supporters in other circumstances.

I caught up with Ken Livingstone earlier today in the Holloway Road in Islington, not far from Boris Johnson’s north London  home.  Again people wanted photos on their mobile phones, but not in quite the same numbers as with Johnson.  Why were so many Labour figures not backing him? I asked.  It was the legacy of his past, Livingstone replied, and his opposition to the Iraq War.

Livingstone is a big problem for Ed Miliband.  In the old days Ken was more popular than his party in London, but no longer.  While Labour is streets ahead in the national polls, and also in the capital on general voting intention, the same polls also suggest that Boris Johnson will beat Ken Livingstone.  And that’s the vote on Friday which will get all the big headlines.  A welcome ray of sunshine for David Cameron amid the gloom of lost council seats, and numerous recent troubles for the government.

This morning I pressed Boris Johnson as to whether, if he wins this week, he thinks it will be a vote of confidence in the Cameron government.  Several times he sidestepped my question.

And who can blame him?  For a Johnson triumph wouldn’t be a vote of confidence in Cameron.

The Conservatives also fear one side-effect of this week’s results could be that Johnson has to deal with a London Assembly with fewer Conservative seats (they now have 11 out of 25).  That would mean Johnson, like Cameron in the Coalition at Westminster, would have to negotiate a lot more with other parties to get his budget passed.

The other candidates standing in the London mayoral elections are:

Brian Paddick, Liberal Democrat
Jenny Jones, Green
Siobhan Benita, Independent
Lawerence Webb, UKIP
Carlos Cortiglia, BNP

Follow @MichaelLCrick on Twitter.