Jim has written on this blog before about the general sense that Boris Johnson will win next year’s London mayoral elections. He is regarded as charismatic, charming and has managed to avoid any serious misstep while serving as mayor. More importantly, Ken Livingstone is seen by many as yesterday’s man, having previously done the job for eight years.
But the London riots have the potential to change all that. While Boris was away on holiday last night, Ken was allowed to dominate the airwaves, securing a prominent slot on Newsnight in particular, where he blamed the government’s cuts for the violence.
Boris has now returned, and addressed people on the streets of Clapham. But he struggled. Almost drowned out by heckling, he defended his own response and that of the police to Monday night’s riots.
Amid calls of “Why are you here now? Why weren’t you here earlier?” and “You talk about robust policing. What does that actually mean?” Boris didn’t really have a clear message, saying at one point:
I think it is time that people engaged in violence and looting stopped using economic and sociological justifications.
“Economic and sociological justifications”? Hardly the kind of reassuring words many Londoners were hoping to hear.
At the moment, however, Boris is being rescued by equally vociferous criticism of Ken’s reaction, which has been called overly-partisan and point-scoring. But if Ken starts to sound like the voice of Londonders while Boris struggles to connect, it could be a problem for the mayor.
One final point however: Boris’ aides are banking on a poll boost in early summer 2012 as London prepares for the Olympics. They will have to hope it does not end up being too little, too late.