Sunshine all the way as Boris launches his charm offensive

Charlie Cooper finds the London Mayor in his element as he begins his re-election campaign

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Indy Politics

"Welcome to Richmond," said Zac Goldsmith, hosting Boris Johnson's campaign launch in his south-west London constituency. "Where the sun always shines," he added.

Certainly, Mr Johnson had no reason to fear a frosty reception. The well-heeled outer London borough is home to natural supporters of Mr Johnson's low-tax, car-friendly, union-busting mayoralty.

Addressing a packed hall in the Duke Street Church from a lectern beneath a 10ft wooden crucifix and flanked by imposing pictures of his own face, Mr Johnson was in his element. Supporters kitted out in blue and white "Back Boris" T-shirts roared obligingly at every campaign promise and crime reduction statistic, with pantomime boos reserved for Labour's repeat candidate Ken Livingstone and the "Union barons".

With three weeks to go until the 3 May vote, the Mayor has a 53 to 47 per cent lead over his main rival in the polls. But following a week in which the mayoral candidates' tax returns attracted far more attention than their policies, he will be concerned that, despite damaging allegations about Mr Livingstone's financial affairs, he is still to put clear daylight between himself and his rival.

In most parts of London the core issues for voters are jobs, crime and cheap housing, but for some in Richmond, these things matter much less than a well-designed bus and a cheap tube ticket. Surrounded by a phalanx of minders and PR people, the Mayor went for a lunchtime meet and greet, dropping into chocolate shops and stopping to speak to dog-walkers and pensioners – the majority of whom were happy for him to "count on their support".

"He is just so charming," said 18-year-old Isabel Booth, who began the day a Ken supporter but, having met the Mayor, is now sure she will vote for him. Whether the Boris Brigade would be quite so well-received in those parts of London where the 200,000 new jobs and 1,000 more police officers promised are sorely needed, is not so certain.

Mr Johnson promised another council tax freeze, more investment in transport, £1.5bn extra savings on "waste" spending at City Hall and another 1,000 police officers on the streets. "Do you want a City Hall full of car-hating, outer London-ignoring, bendy-bus-fetishist Trotskyites?" asked Boris. "No!" cried the faithful.

The biggest cheer was for the new generation of double-decker Routemaster bus – complete with old-fashioned jump-on, jump-off platforms – that Mr Johnson has introduced. "Do you want German-designed, 18-metre long bendy buses blocking our streets like beached whales?" Believe it or not, they didn't.

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