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

News
people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Sport
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Sport
Radamel Falcao
footballManchester United agree loan deal for Monaco striker Falcao
Sport
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
News
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
Sport
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
News
i100
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
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
News
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
News
i100
Life and Style
tech

Apple agrees deal with Visa on contactless payments

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

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 ...

Digital Marketing Assistant

£17 - 27k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Digital Marketing Assistant to join ...

Day In a Page

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
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor