The three main candidates for London Mayor all posed as anti-establishment rebels yesterday as they sought to tap into public hostility towards party politics when launching their campaigns.
Boris Johnson, the Tory candidate, did not mention the word "Conservative" in his "Back Boris" literature. He is relying heavily on his personal appeal and being better known than most front-rank politicians.
Ken Livingstone, who has often revelled in being the outsider, did not include "Labour" in his campaign material, using the slogan "Vote for London – Ken." But after eight years as Mayor, his opponents are portraying him as the establishment candidate in the 1 May election.
"Ken's been around in London for 40 years, not eight," said a senior Tory source. "People think he's done some good things but that he's run out of steam and it's time for change."
Mr Johnson said he had the energy, drive and new ideas London needed. "What I am offering is a breath of fresh air," he said.
Mr Livingstone starts the campaign on the defensive after controversies over grants paid out by the London Development Agency economic arm and the resignation of Lee Jasper, his race relations adviser and a close ally. At the launch of his campaign, Mr Livingstone made a passionate 35-minute defence of his record on transport, crime, race relations and housing and outlined a long list of future plans to combat the charge his best days are behind him.
His strategy is to tell Londoners that the contest matters and should be about policy, not personality. But he was not above a personal dig at Mr Johnson, a star of TV's Have I Got News for You. "This election is not Celebrity Big Brother," said Mr Livingstone. "It is about the most serious issues and the future of our city. The stakes are very high." The Mayor sought to portray Mr Johnson as "living in the past", saying he now supported policies he had long opposed such as gay rights, the congestion charge and action on climate change.
The Liberal Democrat candidate, Brian Paddick, a former senior Scotland Yard officer, was hailed by his party leader Nick Clegg as "the man to take on the establishment at City Hall".
Mr Paddick trails third in the opinion polls but could play a decisive role. People have two votes and so their second preferences could be crucial. A YouGov survey this week put the Tory candidate on 49 per cent, Mr Livingstone on 37 per cent and Mr Paddick on 12 per cent. Of second preference votes, Mr Paddick had 42 per cent, Mr Johnson 20 per cent and Mr Livingstone 17 per cent.
National opinion polls since last week's Budget showing the Tories with a lead of up to 16 points will add to Labour's jitters. The stakes in the capital are indeed very high for Gordon Brown, who will appear with Mr Livingstone tomorrow. A Johnson victory on a "time for change" ticket would boost Mr Cameron's prospects of a repeat performance at the general election.
Yet Mr Livingstone is the great survivor. Margaret Thatcher abolished the Greater London Council when he was leader in 1986 but he was reincarnated as Mayor. Labour booted him out for running as an independent but had to allow him back into the party fold. Yet Mr Livingstone admits the Tories have for the first time found "a popular persona" to oppose him. "This will be the tightest political fight of my life," he said.
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