Ken lost us, then lost London

By Geoffrey Alderman, May 16, 2008

The statistics indicate that if Livingstone had apologised to London’s Jews, he may have won

What part did the Jews of London play in the ousting of its former mayor, Ken Livingstone? The circumstantial evidence is compelling, and points to a vindication of Nicky Gavron’s claim (reported in last week’s JC) that a Jewish backlash made a significant contribution to his loss of office.

In terms of first-preference votes, Ken actually did better in 2008 than in 2004 — as a proportion of the total of first-preferences, Ken polled 36.4 per cent in 2008 as against 35.7 per cent four years ago.

The core “Ken” vote — partly a Labour vote but partly also a personal vote — held up remarkably well. When we factor-in the second-preference votes, the same conclusion holds true. Ken attracted 250,000 or so second preferences in 2004, but over 303,000 in 2008.

But holding on to your core voters was never going to be enough to win in an election in 2008 radically different from the contest of 2004. Voter turnout in the London mayoral election has been rising ever since the first poll, in 2000. Then just over one third of registered voters bothered to vote. In 2004 turnout rose, modestly, to 37 per cent. Two weeks ago it shot up to a staggering 45 per cent — staggering, that is, when measured against the apathy that has customarily accompanied English local elections hitherto.

In fact, in some areas of Greater London turnout was even higher — almost 50 per cent in Bexley & Bromley, 49 per cent in Croydon & Sutton, and in West Central London , 48 per cent in Barnet & Camden , 46 per cent in Havering & Redbridge.

And whilst there are not that many Jewish voters in Bromley or Croydon, there are a great many in Barnet, Redbridge and West Central (Westminster and Chelsea).

Ken needed to pick up most of these extra votes. He failed to do so. The Conservative share of first-preference votes rose from 28.2 per cent to 42.5 per cent — a full six percentage points ahead of the Labour first-preference total. Boris Johnson then delivered the coup-de-grace by attracting almost 258,000 second-preferences, whereas in 2004 the Tory candidate had polled only 222,000 second-preferences.

Historically, the Jewish vote in London has been largely Conservative — the infatuation with Labourism and Communism in the period 1918-45 was an aberration. To get Ken out of City Hall, Boris Johnson needed to find extra votes, and many of these were potential Jewish Tory votes — if only they could be enticed into the polling booths. The recent London mayoral contest was in fact decided by around 150,000 electors who might otherwise have stayed at home but who were “got out” by a ferociously efficient election machine — Boris’s Barmy Army.

Here in Barnet, Ken Livingstone did not bother to put in one media appearance during the campaign. The Barmy Army was out in force. Here in Barnet, and in adjacent Brent and Jewish Redbridge, the message was tailored to play on Jewish fears of what Ken might do if given another four-year term.

I have dwelt before in this column on Ken’s numerous anti-Jewish indiscretions. Each can no doubt be explained away as a slip of the tongue, an innocent mistake, a momentary lapse. Taken together, however, they constitute a dossier. Even as the day of the poll approached, Ken could have taken a deep breath and issued an effusive, unambiguous apology for the hurt he had caused many — most — of the Jewish citizens of London. He did not do so. Was this because he was unable to appreciate the hurt he had caused? In which case he is hardly the man to speak for a great multi-ethnic metropolis. Or was it because he was too proud, or too stubborn? In which case he is lacking in that basic humanity that we expect of our political leaders.

London’s Jews are like London’s non-Jews, only more so. We care about the environment, public transport, street crime. But we also want as our mayor someone whom we can trust.

At one level it does seem odd that on May 1, so many of us should have placed this trust in Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, a New-York born Old Etonian whose great-grandfather was a minister in the Ottoman Empire. But the circumstantial evidence points unmistakeably to this conclusion. Large numbers of Jewish voters seem to have gone out of their way to vote for Boris; in so doing they helped eject Red Ken from City Hall.

Last updated: 10:20am, October 20 2010