So was it the 'Standard' wot won it? Or just a sign of the times?

The paper might have sunk its teeth into Ken Livingstone but Boris Johnson's victory in the London mayoral elections owes less to a vigorous press campaign than the fading fortunes of the Labour Party, writes Tim Luckhurst

Eighty-four years ago, a title in what is now the Associated Newspapers group changed the result of a British election. Shortly before polling day in 1924, the infamous Zinoviev Letter was published in the Daily Mail. Ostensibly written in the Kremlin, it incited the British left to prepare for revolution. It was a forgery, but Labour was damaged and the Conservative Stanley Baldwin was elected Prime Minister.

Has Associated's London Evening Standard just repeated the trick in the battle for the London mayoralty between "Red Ken" Livingstone and Boris "the Blond Bombshell" Johnson?

At the Kensington headquarters of the Standard on Friday, executives must have contemplated claiming, "It was the Standard wot won it." Since The Sun's 1992 campaign against Neil Kinnock culminated in the front-page claim that it was responsible for the Conservative election victory, few newspapers have campaigned as vigorously as the Standard did against Livingstone.

Stories including "Suicide bomb backer runs Ken campaign" (16 April), "Ken's secret donation by property boss (9 April) and "A Green revolution – or is Ken just power mad?" (24 February) were calculated to convince Londoners that re-electing him would be a calamity. So was a meticulous crusade by the paper's star columnist, Andrew Gilligan, which produced damaging allegations that London Development Agency grants under the Mayor's control were given to dubious recipients.

Gilligan, once a party member and at the time of the Hutton Inquiry a hero to progressives, has been accused of treachery by Labour supporters. He can afford to laugh. Less than five years after Lord Hutton condemned him for sloppy journalism, he has won the coveted Press Gazette Journalist of the Year Award for his efforts to hold Livingstone to account.

Diligent research in Companies House reinforced by on-the-record testimony from whistle-blowers provided a solid foundation for headlines such as "Ken's adviser is linked to terror group", provoking follow-ups online and by broadcasters.

Critics say the new Conservative Mayor, Boris Johnson, is more celebrity than statesman. Well, every celebrity needs a good agent and Johnson could hardly have had a better one than the Standard's editor, Veronica Wadley. Senior Conservatives credit her with persuading a sceptical David Cameron that he could be a credible candidate. And Wadley helped convince Johnson, the Old Etonian former editor of The Spectator, to shar-pen up when initial campaign efforts faltered.

There is little doubt that Wadley dislikes Livingstone. Since February 2005, when he accused the Jewish Standard reporter Oliver Feingold of behaving "just like a concentration camp guard", relations between editor and politician have rarely been warmer than glacial. Ideological leftists who detest Associated Newspapers, and revile the Standard's sister paper, the Daily Mail, believe the Standard is to blame for turfing out Red Ken. But there is no automatic link between ideologically partisan journalism and inaccuracy. Among the Standard's editorial concerns are crime, the congestion charge and the expanding costs of the 2012 Olympics. Johnson's stance on each is close to the paper's heart, so it is not surprising that it committed editorial resources to attacking Livingstone's record. The bigger question is whether its strategy was instrumental in sweeping Johnson to victory – ie, does the press have the power to determine election results?

While newspapers can influence the way people vote, there is evidence that people prefer to read a paper they agree with. So it could be argued that the Standard's efforts to promote Boris Johnson and stigmatise Ken Livingstone were a case of preaching to the converted.

Press campaigns exert political influence more by highlighting issues than through instructions to support a particular candidate. A good example, first explored by Professor Colin Seymour-Ure, is Enoch Powell's notorious 1968 "Rivers of Blood" speech. Before Powell spoke, an opinion poll indicated that only 6 per cent of the population thought immigration was important. After two days of extensive reporting, 27 per cent thought so and 70 per cent thought the government should take a harder line.

Newspapers influence the agenda most when they highlight issues persistently over an extended period and when their stories are taken up by broadcasters and websites. The Standard could not have made Johnson more popular than Livingstone on its own. With a circulation of just 284,030 among a registered London electorate of 5.5 million, it is more of a canny lightweight than the hulking bruiser its angry critics prefer to depict.

Take-up of Andrew Gilligan's careful ferreting by outlets from the Today programme and Sky News to political blogs certainly helped to spread the impact. So did Wadley's attention-grabbing headlines and Standard billboards, which are seen by many Londoners who do not buy the newspaper itself. But in the end the Standard's "success" in seeing Johnson elected probably owes most to the same reasons that, less than a week before polling day, saw The Sun endorse Johnson as "a new and fresh champion for London".

Veronica Wadley's greatest editorial asset in the London election was a keen awareness of which way the wind was blowing. With the electorate throughout England abandoning Labour for the Conservatives, Londoners were unlikely to choose Ken over Boris. So the Standard gave its affluent, but worried, middle-class readers the political message they most wanted to hear.

Tim Luckhurst is professor of journalism at the University of Kent

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck stars as prime suspect Nick Dunne in the film adaptation of Gone Girl
filmBen Affleck and Rosamund Pike excel in David Fincher's film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Life and Style
Warner Bros released a mock-up of what the new Central Perk will look like
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham
booksLena Dunham's memoirs - written at the age of 28 - are honest to the point of making you squirm
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden sings his heart out in his second audition
tvX Factor: How did the Jakes - and Charlie Martinez - fare?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Senior Account Executive / Account Executive

£25 - 30k (DOE) + Bonus & Benefits: Guru Careers: We are looking for an Accoun...

Account Manager / Sales Account Manager / Recruitment Account Manager

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

Resourcer / Junior Recruiter

£15-20k (DOE) + Benefits / Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright R...

Web Designer / Digital Designer

£25 - 40k (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Web Desig...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments