London mayoral race about personality, not politics
True blue … Conservative Boris Johnson, pictured at an event for World War II veterans on Wednesday, is favoured to see off his main opponent, Ken Livingstone. Photo: Reuters
LONDON: In one corner is a large, cheery Tory, with mussed blond hair, a wry sense of humour and a notable ability to rise above the otherwise low regard in which his party is held. Boris Johnson, 47, is the bookies' four-to-one favourite to win a second term as London's mayor in council elections.
He is expected to vanquish his main opponent, the former mayor Ken Livingstone, 67, whose low popular standing is also out of synch with the otherwise rising electoral star of the British Labour Party. This is a contest in which personality has been prevailing over party politics.
A YouGov poll this week gave Mr Johnson a four-point lead, despite those surveyed believing Mr Livingstone had achieved more in office (39 per cent to 32 per cent) and was more in touch with the concerns of ordinary people (37 per cent to 14 per cent).
But they liked Mr Johnson more; 35 per cent wanted to go out for a drink with him (only 16 per cent for Mr Livingstone) and they also found him more charismatic (51 per cent compared with 14 per cent) and honest (22 per cent against 14 per cent).
The campaign has been heated. As a bitter brawl about his non-mayoral income dragged on (Mr Johnson earns £250,000 year for a weekly column with The Daily Telegraph), Mr Johnson at one point called Mr Livingstone "a f---ing liar".
At another point he said "f---ing bollocks" to a BBC camera. This was when he was challenged by a journalist over allegations he had been in talks with James Murdoch while News International was being investigated by police. The result: a boost in the polls. It added to his appeal as the Eton-Oxford posh-boy who is seen as being like ordinary Britons.
People buttonhole him on the street. Drivers wind down windows and shout: "Go Boris!" - although the occasional driver begs to differ, with: "Tory bastard!"
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, acknowledged that Mr Johnson is seen as the non-Tory Tory: "You don't have to be Conservative to vote for Boris; you can dislike all the political parties but you can vote for Boris because he has a big heart and he is doing the right thing for London."
He is also doing the right thing for Boris. Mr Johnson, who has a high public profile because of his personal charm and the visibility of some of his initiatives, which include encouraging cycling via bikes for hire, is thought to have ambitions for national political leadership.
Some have even touted him as a potential Conservative prime minister, and there is speculation that he might take advantage of any byelections that present themselves - though probably not until he has presided over the London Olympics.
His election policies this time round include promises to cut council tax, put 2000 more police on the beat and help create 200,000 jobs. Mr Livingstone, who was mayor between 2000 and 2008, has focused on six pledges to help "ordinary Londoners" struggling with the cost of living.
The voting started yesterday Sydney time.