Ken lost us, then lost Lon­don

The sta­tis­tics in­di­cate that if Liv­ing­stone had apol­o­gised to Lon­don’s Jews, he may have won


WHAT PART did the Jews of Lon­don play in the oust­ing of its for­mer mayor, Ken Liv­ing­stone? The cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence is com­pelling, and points to a vin­di­ca­tion of Nicky Gavron’s claim (re­ported in last week’s JC) that a Jewish back­lash made a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to his loss of of­fice.

In terms of first-pref­er­ence votes, Ken ac­tu­ally did bet­ter in 2008 than in 2004 — as a pro­por­tion of the to­tal of first-pref­er­ences, Ken polled 36.4 per cent in 2008 as against 35.7 per cent four years ago.

The core “Ken” vote — partly a Labour vote but partly also a per­sonal vote — held up re­mark­ably well. When we fac­tor-in the sec­ond-pref­er­ence votes, the same con­clu­sion holds true. Ken at­tracted 250,000 or so sec­ond pref­er­ences in 2004, but over 303,000 in 2008.

But hold­ing on to your core vot­ers was never go­ing to be enough to win in an elec­tion in 2008 rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent from the con­test of 2004. Voter turnout in the Lon­don may­oral elec­tion has been ris­ing ever since the first poll, in 2000. Then just over one third of reg­is­tered vot­ers both­ered to vote. In 2004 turnout rose, mod­estly, to 37 per cent. Two weeks ago it shot up to a stag­ger­ing 45 per cent — stag­ger­ing, that is, when mea­sured against the ap­a­thy that has cus­tom­ar­ily ac­com­pa­nied English lo­cal elec­tions hith­erto.

In fact, in some ar­eas of Greater Lon­don turnout was even higher — al­most 50 per cent in Bex­ley & Brom­ley, 49 per cent in Croy­don & Sut­ton, and in West Cen­tral Lon­don , 48 per cent in Barnet & Cam­den , 46 per cent in Haver­ing & Red­bridge.

And whilst there are not that many Jewish vot­ers in Brom­ley or Croy­don, there are a great many in Barnet, Red­bridge and West Cen­tral (West­min­ster and Chelsea).

Ken needed to pick up most of th­ese ex­tra votes. He failed to do so. The Con­ser­va­tive share of first-pref­er­ence votes rose from 28.2 per cent to 42.5 per cent — a full six per­cent­age points ahead of the Labour first-pref­er­ence to­tal. Boris John­son then de­liv­ered the coup-de-grace by at­tract­ing al­most 258,000 sec­ond­pref­er­ences, whereas in 2004 the Tory can­di­date had polled only 222,000 sec­ond-pref­er­ences.

His­tor­i­cally, the Jewish vote in Lon­don has been largely Con­ser­va­tive — the in­fat­u­a­tion with Labourism and Com­mu­nism in the pe­riod 191845 was an aber­ra­tion. To get Ken out of City Hall, Boris John­son needed to find ex­tra votes, and many of th­ese were po­ten­tial Jewish Tory votes — if only they could be en­ticed into the polling booths. The re­cent Lon­don may­oral con­test was in fact de­cided by around 150,000 elec­tors who might oth­er­wise have stayed at home but who were “got out” by a fe­ro­ciously ef­fi­cient elec­tion ma­chine — Boris’s Barmy Army.

Here in Barnet, Ken Liv­ing­stone did not bother to put in one me­dia ap­pear­ance dur­ing the cam­paign. The Barmy Army was out in force. Here in Barnet, and in ad­ja­cent Brent and Jewish Red­bridge, the mes­sage was tai­lored to play on Jewish fears of what Ken might do if given an­other four-year term.

I have dwelt be­fore in this col­umn on Ken’s nu­mer­ous anti-Jewish in­dis­cre­tions. Each can no doubt be ex­plained away as a slip of the tongue, an in­no­cent mis­take, a mo­men­tary lapse. Taken to­gether, how­ever, they con­sti­tute a dossier. Even as the day of the poll ap­proached, Ken could have taken a deep breath and is­sued an ef­fu­sive, un­am­bigu­ous apol­ogy for the hurt he had caused many — most — of the Jewish cit­i­zens of Lon­don. He did not do so. Was this be­cause he was un­able to ap­pre­ci­ate the hurt he had caused? In which case he is hardly the man to speak for a great multi-eth­nic me­trop­o­lis. Or was it be­cause he was too proud, or too stub­born? In which case he is lack­ing in that ba­sic hu­man­ity that we ex­pect of our po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

Lon­don’s Jews are like Lon­don’s non-Jews, only more so. We care about the en­vi­ron­ment, pub­lic trans­port, street crime. But we also want as our mayor some­one whom we can trust.

At one level it does seem odd that on May 1, so many of us should have placed this trust in Alexan­der Boris de Pf­ef­fel John­son, a New-York born Old Eto­nian whose great-grand­fa­ther was a min­is­ter in the Ot­toman Em­pire. But the cir­cum­stan­tial ev­i­dence points un­mis­take­ably to this con­clu­sion. Large num­bers of Jewish vot­ers seem to have gone out of their way to vote for Boris; in so do­ing they helped eject Red Ken from City Hall.

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