With many people going to the polls today for the local elections, I thought I'd update my previous advice on the London mayoral race, as well as offering a few predictions of what's going to happen on Friday.
It seems to me that Ken is probably going to lose - which has very little to do with his policy platform, but is rather a combination of two personality-based factors: (1) Boris Johnson appears to have a certain buffoonish appeal to a swathe of voters that disconnects him from national dislike of the Tories, and (2) a proportion of (people who would otherwise be) Labour voters are turned off by Ken to the extent that they won't vote for him.
The 'Boris factor' would probably give Boris a certain boost no matter who he was running against, while the 'Ken factor' would depress Ken's ratings no matter who he was running against. But it's the combination of the two that proves deadly to Ken's chances.
This suggests that Labour would be doing better with another candidate - one with less baggage - and I think that's the case. Oona King, for example, would probably have been in front at this stage, and Boris contemplating a return to Westminster.
The "tax avoider" slur, in particular, has hit Ken really hard. There is some truth in it - to the extent that everyone who sets up a company and pays themselves partially in dividends (which don't attract National Insurance liabilities in the way earnings do) is a tax avoider. In other words Ken is doing the same thing that millions of other people who are self-employed do - paying a lower tax rate than employed people. It's worth noting that even if he were registered as a self-employed sole trader rather than a company, he'd still be paying less tax than if he were an employee, because self-employed National Insurance is considerably lower than employee plus employer rates. In his current employment situation, the only way Ken could pay tax rates equal to what he'd pay as an employee is if he paid out all the income from his company (Silveta) as his earnings rather than dividends. But this logic would suggest that anyone who takes dividends rather than earnings is a tax avoider - so the Tories are left arguing the Marxist line that the return to capital from the production process should essentially be zero, and the return to labour should be 100%. It's a funny old world. Of course, if we had a system which was neutral between the taxation of earnings and dividends, then this issue wouldn't arise. But there you go.
My previous post indicated that if I were in London I wouldn't vote Ken. That's still true on first preferences, but on second preferences, with the race so close, I think I'd have to put him second, despite my misgivings. The guy is severely flawed, but at the end of the day, the priority is to keep Boris out. My first preference would be for Jenny Jones of the Greens.
My predictions overall are for Labour to get around 500 seats, for Ken to lose, and for Labour to lose Glasgow council to the SNP. The latter two will be treated as calamitous by the Blairites in the media (Wintour and Watt, Rentoul, Dan Hodges etc.) who have had thin pickings for their "Ed is crap" campaign of late; but the fallout from London and Glasgow is unlikely to damage Ed, simply because he's had little to do with either fiasco. Ken Livingstone was chosen as the London mayoral candidate before Ed even became Labour leader, and his poll slide is the result largely of unforced errors by Ken himself, coupled with a hugely hostile media - nothing to do with Ed. Similiarly, although I am no expert on Scottish local politics, as far as I can tell the Glasgow problem is also a result of serious problems in the local Glasgow Labour party which are very much below Ed's pay grade. I mean, if the loss to the SNP in the Scottish Parliamentary elections last year didn't result in a putsch against Ed - at a point where Labour was doing much worse in the polls than it is now - it's hardly likely that Glasgow council elections are going to precipitate some kind of uprising now, is it?
I also predict that any fillip to Cameron from a Johnson win will be short-lived - the Johnson/Livingstone duel is a one-off, with no real relevance to national politics except that it establishes Johnson as a formidable operator and campaigner who will move one step closer to being the next leader. But that factor could weaken Cameron in the long run a lot more than it helps him. If Dave looks like a surefire loser in 2015 we can expect to see Boris campaign for a parliamentary seat in the May 2015 election (amazingly, the Mayor is allowed to serve as an MP at the same time, as long as it's for no more than 6 months), get elected and then resign the mayoralty to stand for Tory leader. And given the collection of duffers currently jockeying for position in the Cabinet, it seems unlikely he won't get it, should he want it. Interesting times indeed.