Boris pulls ahead in the polls

But the London mayoral race is not won yet.

Is the London mayoral race a done deal? A Populus/Times (£) poll this morning suggests it might be, giving Boris Johnson a 12 point lead over Ken Livingstone.

In the first round of voting, the poll gives Johnson 46 per cent of the vote to Livingstone’s 34. In the second round, with all other candidates eliminated, the incumbent retains the 12 point gap, with 56 per cent to his Labour rival’s 44.

The poll was not good for the Liberal Democrats, with their candidate Brian Paddick polling behind the Green candidate, Jenny Jones (with five and six per cent of the vote respectively), and sharing fourth place with independent candidate Siobhan Benita. Ukip’s Lawrence Webb polled at three per cent, while the BNP’s Carlos Coriglia trailed at just one.

Why this sudden poll success for Johnson? The Times cites a surge of support for Johnson in outer London, where his lead extends to 20 points. While Livingstone polls marginally better than the Tory mayor in the inner city, with 51 per cent of the vote, he should really be doing better in these Labour heartlands.

However, Boris's team should not pop open the champagne corks yet, as this poll does not tell the whole story. Firstly, it is worth noting the possibility that this poll is an outlier – it has given Johnson his highest lead for months. The 12 point lead is double the margin which got Johnson into City Hall in 2008.

Elsewhere, the Evening Standard has published a poll by YouGov, which gives Johnson a narrower lead of three points in the first round, with 44 points to Livingstone’s 41. In the second round, the lead increases to four, with Johnson on 52 and Livingstone on 48. This is consistent with a Standard/YouGov poll last week, which put Johnson just two points ahead.

While a win for Johnson looks most likely, the relatively narrow lead still shown in some polls illustrates that the race is not quite a dead cert. It is hard to see, though, how Ken -- still failing to excite enthusiasm amongst his core supporters -- will pull off a victory.

David Cameron will certainly be hoping for a Tory win in London on Friday to distract attention from his other woes. A rather different poll by ITV News/ComRes last night showed that 49 per cent of the public think that the Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt should resign, while just 16 per cent think he should remain in post. Those are dire figures given that the Prime Minister has gone out on a limb in Hunt’s defence, despite not being in possession of all the facts.

As I argued yesterday, a win for Boris could halt the flow of bad news and shore up support for the government from Conservatives. This is somewhat ironic given that if Boris wins, it will be contingent on how much he can differentiate himself from his party’s top command.
 

Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson await the results of the 2008 mayoral election. Photograph: Getty Images

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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Northern Ireland election results: a shift beneath the status quo

The power of the largest parties has been maintained, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

After a long day of counting and tinkering with the region’s complex PR vote transfer sytem, Northern Irish election results are slowly starting to trickle in. Overall, the status quo of the largest parties has been maintained with Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party returning as the largest nationalist and unionist party respectively. However, beyond the immediate scope of the biggest parties, interesting changes are taking place. The two smaller nationalist and unionist parties appear to be losing support, while newer parties running on nicher subjects with no connection to Northern Ireland’s traditional religious divide are rapidly rising.

The most significant win of the night so far has been Gerry Carroll from People Before Profit who topped polls in the Republican heartland of West Belfast. Traditionally a Sinn Fein safe constituency and a former seat of party leader Gerry Adams, Carroll has won hearts at a local level after years of community work and anti-austerity activism. A second People Before Profit candidate Eamon McCann also holds a strong chance of winning a seat in Foyle. The hard-left party’s passionate defence of public services and anti-austerity politics have held sway with working class families in the Republican constituencies which both feature high unemployment levels and which are increasingly finding Republicanism’s focus on the constitutional question limiting in strained economic times.

The Green party is another smaller party which is slowly edging further into the mainstream. As one of the only pro-choice parties at Stormont which advocates for abortion to be legalised on a level with Great Britain’s 1967 Abortion Act, the party has found itself thrust into the spotlight in recent months following the prosecution of a number of women on abortion related offences.

The mixed-religion, cross-community Alliance party has experienced mixed results. Although it looks set to increase its result overall, one of the best known faces of the party, party leader David Ford, faces the real possibility of losing his seat in South Antrim following a poor performance as Justice Minister. Naomi Long, who sensationally beat First Minister Peter Robinson to take his East Belfast seat at the 2011 Westminster election before losing it again to a pan-unionist candidate, has been elected as Stormont MLA for the same constituency. Following her competent performance as MP and efforts to reach out to both Protestant and Catholic voters, she has been seen by many as a rising star in the party and could now represent a more appealing leader to Ford.

As these smaller parties slowly gain a foothold in Northern Ireland’s long-established and stagnant political landscape, it appears to be the smaller two nationalist and unionist parties which are losing out to them. The moderate nationalist party the SDLP risks losing previously safe seats such as well-known former minister Alex Attwood’s West Belfast seat. The party’s traditional, conservative values such as upholding the abortion ban and failing to embrace the campaign for same-sex marriage has alienated younger voters who instead may be drawn to Alliance, the Greens or People Before Profit. Local commentators have speculate that the party may fail to get enough support to qualify for a minister at the executive table.

The UUP are in a similar position on the unionist side of the spectrum. While popular with older voters, they lack the charismatic force of the DUP and progressive policies of the newer parties. Over the course of the last parliament, the party has aired the possibility of forming an official opposition rather than propping up the mandatory power-sharing coalition set out by the peace process. A few months ago, legislation will finally past to allow such an opposition to form. The UUP would not commit to saying whether they are planning on being the first party to take up that position. However, lacklustre election results may increase the appeal. As the SDLP suffers similar circumstances, they might well also see themselves attracted to the role and form a Stormont’s first official opposition together as a way of regaining relevance and esteem in a system where smaller parties are increasingly jostling for space.