Boris is a 'buffoon' but he should be Mayor, say business leaders

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Indy Politics

Business leaders think Boris Johnson is a "buffoon", but they still overwhelmingly want him to be Mayor of London, according to a new poll. The vast majority still expect Ken Livingstone to win the race for County Hall in May.

Some 57 per cent think the Tory mayoral candidate doesn't come across as serious enough, while more than two in five think he does not have a clearly defined set of policies, according to the survey by polling firm ComRes. Fifty-three per cent think he is "too much of a buffoon". But Mr Johnson has the backing of nearly 60 per cent of the business community, compared with only 30 per cent who support the incumbent Mr Livingstone.

A survey of 188 business leaders conducted between 14 and 21 January showed that 79 per cent still expect Ken Livingstone to win the election in May.

Mr Johnson has positioned himself as a maverick, hoping that a serious and experienced team of advisers will counter his trademark bumbling, gaffe-prone style. The journalist-turned-MP is optimistic that voters will back his promise to put the fun back into London, and trust his backroom "cabinet" to keep the capital's wheels turning.

Mr Livingstone, meanwhile, has been buffeted by allegations about his senior advisers. These maintain that some senior figures attempted to under-mine Trevor Phillips, the chairman of the equality and human rights commission, and helped campaign for their boss's re-election while being paid by the public purse.

Earlier this week a key aide was forced to resign after admitting she accepted a free weekend at a Nigerian beach resort without telling her employers.

The Mayor took to the airwaves this week with a round of interviews denying allegations against his aides, and insisting that his County Hall "fiefdom" was essential to push through policies such as the congestion charge.

Last night, Mr Johnson was allegedly embroiled in a scandal of his own, after it was claimed that he is receiving financial support in the form of free use of offices within County Hall from a Japanese company. The Shirayama Shokusan Corporation offered Mr Livingstone its premises in 2000 but he rejected the offer, fearing a conflict of interest.

Mr Livingstone's campaign for re-election rests heavily on his record, with allies pointing to London's successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, the decision to build the Crossrail train link and an increase in the number of police in the capital.

But the ComRes survey showed dissatisfaction with Mr Livingstone's record, with 54 per cent of business leaders disagreeing with the statement that Mr Livingstone "has done a good job as mayor and should be given a further term".

Fifty-four per cent said Mr Livingstone had been a "divisive" mayor, while a similar percentage branded him "too left-wing".

Forty-five per cent thought Mr Johnson would not appeal to many of London's diverse communities. And although 46 per cent thought he would project a good image of London as mayor, 38 per cent disagreed. However, a clear majority – 57 per cent – thought Mr Livingstone "has shown imagination and courage in introducing new policies such as the congestion charge". The Liberal Democrat candidate, Brian Paddick, a former commander in Metropolitan Police, was backed by 11 per cent of those polled, but only 3 per cent thought he would win.

Mr Livingstone has come under heavy fire for his management style, with Mr Johnson accusing him of being "drunk on power".

Deconstructed: Livingstone's defence against sleaze allegations

The Mayor has this week been answering journalists' questions about his conduct, including on the BBC's 'Today' show on Thursday. Here is a summary of his defence.

* Trevor Phillips

Ken Livingstone said he had authorised a campaign against Trevor Phillips, the former boss of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), now head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, but insisted he was attacking Mr Phillips' views on multiculturalism, not him personally. He told the BBC: "I took the view that the direction that Trevor Phillips was taking the CRE was not just wrong but damaging and we launched a campaign to try and stop it. That's not anti-him. The fact we don't like each other played no part in it at all."

Emails leaked to Channel 4's Dispatches seem to show Mr Livingstone's aides went well beyond a simply policy disagreement. The show reported that Lee Jasper, the Mayor's adviser on race, had written to a colleague: "We should develop a devastating critique of TP tenure at CRE".

Verdict: The Mayor's argument against Mr Phillips appears to go well beyond policy.

* Have officials joined the political battle for the mayoralty?

Mr Livingstone said it was legitimate for senior mayoral officials to campaign for his re-election "providing they are doing it in their own time and they are not using public resources". He said: "You can't seriously say that anybody earning over £35,000 has no right to their own private views." All County Hall posts paying more than £35,000 are "politically restricted", meaning they cannot stand for political office, be an election agent or canvass under their own names. But they are not banned from being a member of a political party and can be politically active as long as they do not use GLA resources. Atma Singh, a former adviser to the Mayor, told Dispatches that he wrote articles for Mr Livingstone's 2004 re-election campaign and raised money while working for the GLA.

Verdict: State-funded officials should be seen to be non-partisan.

* Did the London Development Agency (LDA) ignore procedures when backing projects?

Mr Livingstone told the BBC that all proper procedures had been followed by the LDA. He said the agency backed "marginal" projects and many were always likely to fail. He said Mr Jasper warned the LDA about the management at Diversity International, which got a £295,000 grant just before it went into liquidation. It has been alleged that Mr Jasper had links to companies which received £2.5m from the LDA. County Hall officials insist Mr Jasper had no power to grant LDA awards.

Verdict: Remains a damaging row.

* Mr Livingstone's presidential power

Mr Livingstone acknowledged that the Mayor's office is a US-style presidential fiefdom. However, he argued that he would not have got measures such as the congestion charge through a conventional local authority. Ten senior advisers became direct political appointees in 2004. Two more, Mr Jasper and John Duffy, were also posts appointed by the Mayor.

Verdict: Mr Livingstone is a presidential figure, but questions over cronyism risk overshadowing his record.

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