Narrow Victory for Mayor Who Returned to the Fold
Ken Livingstone Gains Second Term Despite Iraq War Backlash

By Hugh Muir
Published June 12th 2004 in The Guardian

Ken Livingstone won a second term as mayor of London last night after securing a narrow victory over his Tory rival, Steve Norris.
Standing this time as a Labour candidate, Mr Livingstone failed to win a simple majority of votes cast across the capital, but retained his job after second-preference votes were redistributed from unsuccessful candidates. He beat Mr Norris's 542,423 first-preference votes and 667,178 votes on the final count by 685,541 and 828,380 votes respectively.

Eighteen hours after polling stations closed Mr Livingstone had to wait for confirmation of a second term, having seen his ratings slump as a result of the government's unpopularity and a backlash from the Iraq war.

Many anti-war protesters remained loyal to Mr Livingstone, despite his return to the Labour party, because of his personal opposition to the conflict. But a large number who voted for him as an independent last time either endorsed other candidates or stayed at home. There were reports in east London of large groups of Muslim families rushing to the polls just before they closed at 10pm.

His narrow victory will come as a relief to Tony Blair, whose officials spent an anxious day monitoring his progress and calling activists in the capital. They were told to safeguard the mayoralty at all costs, even if it meant diverting resources from other candidates. While he survived, the anti-Labour tide hit the London assembly, raising the prospect that Mr Livingstone will have to negotiate with Greens and Liberal Democrats to avoid having his yearly budgets voted down.

Amid the horse trading there will also be recriminations. Members of Mr Livingstone's team say the decision by the executive of the Rail Maritime and Transport union to schedule a strike on the London underground for election day cost vital votes on the assembly. Only Bob Crow, the general secretary, has been absolved of blame.

A source said: "That was the moment Ken could have lost. The publicity was bad enough, but it meant that for a week we could not get other messages out. The approach we took this week, appealing to Lib Dems and Green voters, should have been the focus last week, but had to be put on hold. In the meantime Steve Norris was able to pick up speed."

The source said the campaign was forced to concentrate on getting the strike called off. "Had it not been for Bob Crow putting his personal authority on the line, the strike would probably have gone ahead. We think it cost us two to three percentage points and we had hoped that Ken could pull the assembly up in his slipstream. It is hard to describe how angry we are."

Until then, Mr Livingstone's campaigners say, they had been progressing smoothly, with one factor being the failure of the Liberal Democrats to mount a coherent threat. Simon Hughes stated that his strategy was to overtake Mr Norris and put himself in a position to beat Mr Livingstone in the second stage, when the second-preference votes were counted. But most of his attacks were levelled at Mr Livingstone. One source in the Livingstone camp said: "It was great for us, but it was astoundingly incompetent."

Mr Hughes produced a newspaper linking Mr Norris, the Jarvis chairman, with the Potters Bar rail crash. But the attack was not maintained. "He talked about taking votes from Norris, but didn't do much to achieve that. We just left him to shoot himself in the foot," said the source.

Labour tailored its tactics to meet the challenge from Mr Norris. As he focused on crime, Labour rolled out pronouncements on various subjects. "We saw Norris as a one-shot golfer. He was focused on crime. But Londoners are almost as concerned about quality of life and transport."

Unlike four years ago - when Mr Livingstone went into virtual hibernation for 18 months, prompting cries of "where is the mayor" - he wants to hit the ground running at the beginning of his second term. The government will announce its level of grant for London in July and Mr Livingstone will press for generous funding as well as confirmation that ministers will go ahead with the £10bn Crossrail project linking east and west London.

Also high on his list is the £600m East London line extension, which would see the existing tube line extended to link Highbury and Islington in the north with West Croydon and Clapham in the south.

Mr Livingstone will need funds to press on with his plans to provide free childcare for every parent who wants it in London and to allow his expansion of London's bus services to continue.