Ken takes the lead over Boris

New poll puts Livingstone ahead of Johnson in London mayoral race by 45 per cent to 43.

Don't bet against Red Ken returning to City Hall in 2012. The latest YouGov poll on the London mayoral race puts the Labour candidate ahead of Boris on first preferences by 45 per cent to 43. By contrast, an earlier poll published in October showed Boris ahead by 46 per cent to 44.

The significant support for Livingstone suggests that his age (he will turn 67 in June 2012) and his political baggage aren't necessarily barriers to his re-election. There are still other candidates to come, not least from the Greens and the Lib Dems, who could cut into Ken's vote, but this poll will reassure Labour that it made the right choice.

As on previous occasions, the result is almost certain to be determined by second-preference votes. Asked who they would rather have as mayor – a question that aims to reflect second preferences – voters still favour Boris by 45 per cent to 42, although his lead has narrowed from 5 points in October.

In the coming months we can expect Boris to do even more to try to differentiate himself from Cameron and Osborne. As I noted last week, growing opposition to the speed and scale of the coalition's cuts means Labour's poll lead has widened from 3-5 points to 7-9 points. Boris's challenge is to achieve what Ken could not and prove that national unpopularity is no barrier to local success.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.