Andrew Gilligan: It was not the Standard wot won it for Boris

The paper has been accused of politicking to oust Ken Livingstone. Far from it, says Andrew Gilligan. It was just reporting the truth

Throughout the London mayoral campaign it obsessively spewed vitriol, it ran as many as five knocking pieces a day and some of its news stories were transparent propaganda. Over Boris v Ken, seldom has a serious newspaper embarrassed itself more thoroughly than The Guardian. To the paper's writers, Johnson was a "sociopath", a "moneyed creep... from postcode Posh", a "racist", a "snob", "loathsome", a "moron" and of course a (gasp) "public schoolboy", quite unlike anyone at The Guardian, naturally.

News stories claimed that Boris was "shunning the hustings" (when he had in fact attended every day that week, except the day the story appeared) and that a "resurgent Mayor" had "narrow[ed] the gap" in the polls (that day, the polls had gone from a dead heat to Ken six points behind). Surprising, then, that this textbook practitioner of attack journalism should so furiously criticise my own newspaper, the London Evening Standard, for lighting some of Kenworld's dark corners. One Guardian columnist, Jonathan Myerson, compared my editor, Veronica Wadley, to Goebbels; Polly Toynbee called us "a Tory campaign-sheet more virulent than any previous one I can remember", peddling "spurious 'scandal' after 'scandal'", and Farringdon Road seems to have decided, in its Saturday headline's words, that "it was the Standard wot won it" for Johnson.

Just as the Guardian's judgment of Boris is overheated and awry, so too is its view of the media battle. I wrote most of the stories Polly and Jonathan hated so much, and this I know: it was not The Sun wot won it in 1992, and it was not the Standard wot won it for Boris in 2008.

Livingstone's share of the first-preference vote last week (36.3 per cent) was actually higher than in 2004 (35.7 per cent). Ken lost not because the Standard (or indeed Gordon Brown) cost him votes, but because he faced, for the first time, an opponent around whom the always high levels of hostility to him could coalesce. Precisely because he is not a racist, a snob, or a sociopath, Boris was that opponent.

What the Standard can claim is this. Firstly, in the same way as Boris brought together an existing anti-Ken majority, our investigations into Lee Jasper and the missing millions crystallised many Londoners' existing doubts about Livingstone.

Had our news stories been "spurious", "virulent" or "Tory campaigns" they would not have mattered. But they were factual and measured, thoroughly and transparently sourced, widely followed-up, had important real consequences, such as resignations and arrests, and have of course never, in any specific particular, been denied.

We gave Ken six days to answer our questions before publishing. Five months on there are still no answers. Instead, to our incredulity, he unleashed a barrage of abuse against me and the paper that confirmed not just our stories, but the fears about him.

And that was the second way in which we hindered Livingstone: by throwing him off balance. He had to fight us, rather than the election. Some said not that our stories were untrue, but that they were overplayed. But it was Ken's extraordinary response that made the story so big. At any time, he had the power to can Jasper and end the misery. He clung to him for three months, blinded to the fact that there was a real problem by his hatred of the Standard.

The Standard is no "monopoly" – it fights for media air with 12 nationals, four frees, BBC London, LBC and ITV. Yet it is true that for all the local newsprint that there is in London, mostly on Tube carriage floors, there is relatively little local journalism. The Standard helped set the agenda in this election, belying claims that the freesheets own the future and showing that properly resourced reporting is as important as ever. (Dear Polly, caught between conflicting desires to slam our evil influence and to belittle our "small circulation", squared the circle by claiming our newsstand billboards somehow exercise occult control over Londoners' minds.) I don't agree that investigative journalists should only investigate right-wingers. Power is power, exercised similarly by both left and right. But did we subject Boris to enough scrutiny?

I was the first reporter to expose what became Johnson's single biggest campaign headache, his unrealistic Routemaster bus costings. Beyond that, we looked – quite hard – for other things, but as he hasn't been in power for the last eight years, there was little new to find. Presumably the anti-Boris papers came up with the same blank; they certainly never printed anything.

The Standard's comment pages were hostile to Ken. But we used arguments, mainly derived from the facts we discovered, not insults. We separated news and comment. In commentary I make no secret of my views, so readers can take them into account as part of deciding how seriously to take my news reports. It doesn't seem to have stopped the judges, who gave those reports the top prize in newspaper journalism.

Nor is our hostility for commercial reasons, whatever 100,000 conspiracies Ken may weave about Metro distribution contracts. It was in the Standard's commercial interest for Livingstone to win, because opposition sells papers. Our hostility is empirical, derived from our day-to-day reporting experience of Ken's truthfulness and record. As his own former leader, Neil Kinnock, said, "everyone likes Ken, except those who know him". More than any other paper, the Standard knows Ken.

The Mayor's defeat has left a Livingstone-shaped hole in the Standard's world. For 30 years we have hated each other, but also rather needed each other. Still, I have a feeling that Boris will make a decent substitute. The scrutiny of him begins tomorrow.

As he looks back on his demise, Ken would be wrong to blame the media. The real reason was exemplified by what another Guardian columnist, Zoe Williams, wrote: "We know what London is," she said. "Boris is not London." Last Thursday, the people of London begged to differ; and it was that air of entitlement that cost Ken, and the Guardianistas, the Mayoralty.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

£25k Basic (DOE) – (£30k year 1 OTE) : Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright A...

Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

£20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

Trend Writer / Copywriter

£25 - 30k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Trend Writer / Copywriter: Retail, Design and...

Business Development Manager / Media Sales Exec

£28 - 32k + Uncapped Commission: Guru Careers: A Business Development Manager ...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering