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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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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