I have been looking back at some of the figures for the last three mayoral elections. The numbers are quite staggering and belie the headline news that Boris beat Livingstone by some 6% of the vote as predicted by YouGov.
At a time when the popularity of the Labour government is at a 40-year low Livingstone managed to increase the number of people that voted for him with a first preference by 30%. This is an awesome achievement. The Tories need to note carefully how he achieved this in the face of not only a poor national Labour performance but also with a decimated grass roots organisation. I will come back to this as it illustrates how easily our democracy can be stolen by a politician who is ruthless enough.
Boris’ achievement is far bigger and makes me wonder if Norris couldn’t have pulled something slightly less spectacular off four years ago. Boris increased the Tory vote by a whopping 92%. More people voted for Boris in 2008 then voted for Norris in 2000 and 2004 added together.
There are a few lessons to take from this election. First and foremost it was Boris’ Barmy Army of 11,060 what won it. They pushed leaflets through doors three or four times in half the wards in London and ignored the rest. They then went back to those same homes and asked people to vote for Boris – they did. The Tories have rediscovered doorstep, grassroots politics, they are good at it and it wins them elections. I was struck during this campaign by Boris’ ability to enthuse people new to politics. Indeed in my own ward we have picked up a brilliant 17 year-old who has delivered hundreds of leaflets and had a ball with the Boris team. But it also true that the people who did most of the work are the same old hands, admittedly with a spring in their step.
Going back to Norris. I distinctly remember e-mailing the Norris camp in 2004 and I distinctly remember hearing nothing. At the time I was not very active in the party so the party machine ignored me. This time round the machine has reached out to people and they have responded. I can’t help thinking that if the Norris campaign had reached out the same way in 2004 we might not have had to put up with Livingstone for the last four years.
It is worth noting also what a confusing irrelevance the second preferences are. Anyone at the counts will know how many people wasted their votes as a result of being confused by this system. 1.7% of first preferences were rejected and 17% of second preferences were rejected (mainly because 17% of people didn’t bother with the 2nd vote). Lots of commentators have blathered about how 2nd votes make the London vote unpredictable but this is just nonsense.
Across all of London Boris’ brilliant campaign has managed to garner just 222 additional second preference votes. The biggest differential on second votes was in 2004 when it was 18,000 in Livingstone’s favour. This time it was only 10,000. Considering that this confusing system contributed to 40,000 people losing their first votes it is time it was scrapped.