Ken tries to toxify Boris's brand

New poster depicts Boris as a martian as the Mayor extends his poll lead to four points.

In a final attempt to toxify Boris Johnson's brand, Ken Livingstone's new poster depicts him as a martian ("The Tories are on a different planet") alongside the similarly blue-skinned David Cameron and George Osborne. It's a riff that Ed Miliband has regularly used, with some success, against the Prime Minister ("Planet Cameron"). But while the Conservatives are falling in the polls, Boris keeps rising. The latest YouGov poll shows that the Mayor of London's lead has increased from two points to four points over the last week. Given the scale of the Tories' woes, that is some achievement. But then one of the stories of this campaign has been Boris's ability to differentiate himself from his party. While he outpolls the Tories by 12 points (the "Boris bounce"), Ken trails Labour by three points ("the Ken drag"). As the LSE's Tony Travers notes, "Boris is still way ahead on likeability. This suggests it is an election between Boris and Ken – not the Conservatives and Labour.”

With three days to go, the gap between the two candidates is still narrow enough for Ken to stand a chance of victory and tying Boris to the Tories is probably his best hope. But the odds are against him, not least because of YouGov's exemplary London polling record. In 2004 and 2008 it called the results right to within one per cent (Ken had earlier lodged a formal complaint against the polling company, alleging that its methodology was "fundamentally flawed").

One striking finding from the poll is the degree of Liberal Democrat support for Boris. In the second round, the Lib Dem vote splits 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favour of the Mayor, up 10 per cent from last week. It looks like Boris's re-election will be a true coalition effort.

Ken Livingstone's new campaign poster, unveiled this morning.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.