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Election 2012: The road to City Hall

Category: England

Published: 4th May 2012 18:57:25

It was always going to be a high-profile and hard fought campaign between two-term mayor Ken Livingstone and incumbent Boris Johnson. But how did they both go down with the electorate on the ground?

Two BBC London reporters trailed Johnson and Livingstone from the very start of their campaigns.

Boris Johnson was treated like a celebrity on the campaign trail

It was like spending a month in the company of a celebrity.

On every street, in every shopping mall, he was recognised instantly, and in some cases mobbed.

But these were not just autograph hunters.

Crucially, they were voters promising to support a candidate they loved because of his media profile as a funny, maverick character.

All of which, of course, helped to distance him from an unpopular government at a crucial moment.

When Boris swore repeatedly at Ken Livingstone in a lift after a radio debate, there was an obvious question.

Was it just a deliberate tactic designed to enhance this maverick image?

But as the campaign continued it looked equally possible that it was a near-own goal and team Boris was keen to prevent a repetition.

On every public appearance he was accompanied by press officers and minders, sometimes as many as eight, and never fewer than two.

And their role seemed to be two-fold - to help the candidate stick to the script of the day, and to keep a media hoping for gaffes at bay.

On countless occasions television reporters who asked awkward questions felt the repeated tapping of a press officer's finger, insistent that their time was up.

And if the finger was ignored it often became clear that a disciplined Boris was just repeating the same approved message.

When this constant repetition was itself questioned, Boris said: "Well, that's what I want to tell you." This was a different Boris from four years ago.

In the closing stages of the campaign, a question about his relationship with News International provoked some more swearing.

However, the result suggest the outbursts did not dent his maverick appeal.

For many voters it seems he offered an unbeatable combination of personality, celebrity status and charisma.

He may have been prone to occasional gaffes - but that only served to distance him from the government, even though he was wearing Conservative colours.

Ken Livingstone served London as mayor twice but could he do it again?

Was there life in the old dog yet?

Coco the Labrador kicked off campaigning for the Labour candidate, as Ken Livingstone embarked on a gruelling five-week hunt to sniff out votes.

Yesterday's man. Too Old. The headlines were being sharpened before he even began. But four years out of office had clearly increased his appetite - for fry ups and coffee we learned, but also for bold pledges.

He promised to cut transport fares by 7%, saving some Londoners £1,000 a year. A masterstroke said some, if the sums really could add up.

For a man famed as outspoken and at times divisive, the Labour machine certainly threw everything behind its man.

Miliband, Balls, Cooper, Burnham, Adonis - day after day all the big hitters turned out on stump duty, rain or shine. An aide inside the camp told me the resources allocated were nothing short of a general election.

And they needed to be. For all his bluster, Boris Johnson has been a formidable opponent once again. Even with his party trailing by double-digits in national polls, the London mayor opened up a sizeable lead. It was one he showed no signs of relinquishing.

Still popular, still landing blows on Livingstone about disputed tax bills, controversial tears and the alleged use of actors in a campaign video - it all fuelled the feeling there is little love lost on either side of the Ken and Boris show.

Aside from the "rift-in-a-lift" where Boris turned the air as blue as his rosette, there was a stream of "asides" from Ken on the streets. The "clown", "the blond mad one", "the comedian". Take your pick.

Tory Mayor was the official message being pushed, trying to convince Londoners to abandon the incumbent and punish the government. But polls suggested internal troubles. Two in 10 core Labour supporters could not bring themselves to 'hold their nose' and vote Ken.

On the streets it was more upbeat than four years ago. Constant flows of goodwill from well-wishers seemed to spring up from every corner of the capital. Of course the presence of Coco helped.

"The polls aren't reflected on the streets," Mr Livingstone said. "People are saying you have to win. It's a horrendous responsibility."

Everyone wanted a picture, as one half of London's most famous political double-act rolled into their neighbourhood. But happy snaps do not necessarily mean votes. When he visited Streatham, he took time out to visit the flat he was born in. It almost brought (another) tear to his eye.

"That's where it all began," he mused. "Where my mother gave birth."

What will you do if you lose I asked him? Will you come back?

"I don't know," he replied. "Not given it much thought. I'm just focused on winning."

When he was ousted in 2008 he was at City Hall within weeks, picking at Johnson's policies.

This time, he says he'll probably start by walking the dog.

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BBC News, 2012. Election 2012: The road to City Hall [Online] (Updated 4th May 2012)
Available at: http://www.ukwirednews.com/news/1426669/Election-2012-The-road-to-City-Hall [Accessed 24th Apr 2014]

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