Was Ken really a drag on Labour?

Livingstone finished less than a point behind his party.

Throughout the London mayoral election, commentators (including myself) frequently noted that support for Ken Livingstone trailed support for Labour in the Assembly. The conclusion they drew was that an alternative candidate could have performed better. In the final YouGov poll, Ken underpolled his party by six points. Yet as Éoin Clarke noted this morning, the final results told a different story.

Ken won 40.3 per cent of the vote in the first round, less than a point behind Labour, which attracted 41.1 per cent. So, while Ken still trailed his party, the gap was nowhere near as large as previously thought. As Clarke notes, since Boris Johnson won 44 per cent, Labour would have needed a candidate who could outpoll his or her own party by three per cent. The reality, perhaps, is that any Labour candidate would have struggled against Boris, who successfully detached himself from the Conservatives and retained his unrivalled personal appeal.

 

Ken Livingstone won 40 per cent of the vote, Labour won 41 per cent in London. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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PMQs review: Jeremy Corbyn bids for the NHS to rescue Labour

Ahead of tomorrow's by-elections, Corbyn damned Theresa May for putting the service in a "state of emergency".

Whenever Labour leaders are in trouble, they seek political refuge in the NHS. Jeremy Corbyn, whose party faces potential defeat in tomorrow’s Copeland and Stoke by-elections, upheld this iron law today. In the case of the former, Labour has already warned that “babies will die” as a result of the downgrading of the hospital. It is crude but it may yet prove effective (it worked for No to AV, after all).

In the chamber, Corbyn assailed May for cutting the number of hospital beds, worsening waiting times, under-funding social care and abolishing nursing bursaries. The Labour leader rose to a crescendo, damning the Prime Minister for putting the service in a “a state of emergency”. But his scattergun attack was too unfocused to much trouble May.

The Prime Minister came armed with attack lines, brandishing a quote from former health secretary Andy Burnham on cutting hospital beds and reminding Corbyn that Labour promised to spend less on the NHS at the last election (only Nixon can go to China). May was able to boast that the Tories were providing “more money” for the service (this is not, of course, the same as “enough”). Just as Corbyn echoed his predecessors, so the Prime Minister sounded like David Cameron circa 2013, declaring that she would not “take lessons” from the party that presided over the Mid-Staffs scandal and warning that Labour would “borrow and bankrupt” the economy.

It was a dubious charge from the party that has racked up ever-higher debt but a reliably potent one. Labour, however, will be satisfied that May was more comfortable debating the economy or attacking the Brown government, than she was defending the state of the NHS. In Copeland and Stoke, where Corbyn’s party has held power since 1935 and 1950, Labour must hope that the electorate are as respectful of tradition as its leader.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.