On Monday 23rd April, YouGov released a poll that put Boris narrowly ahead of Ken, by 51% to 49%. It also showed that the Conservatives were now 19 points adrift from Labour in London. Even though Ken’s personal ratings hadn’t improved, it was clear Labour voters were returning to him. Our ship was in remarkably good shape, but the blue anchor dragging it down looked to have continuing momentum.
Boris and the team were in despair. We had fought hard to put Ken on the back foot and take maximum advantage of his mistakes. We had a strong message and a positive agenda for London’s future. Yet it could all count for nothing, thanks to the Government’s standing. Ever since the botched budget, Boris and Crosby had been receiving almost daily messages from No.10 apologising and asking what they could do to help. In response, more than one member of the campaign team remarked; “They could shut up”.
As we discussed the latest poll, Boris gave a wry smile in response to our ranting. He put forward the theory that deep down Cameron and Osborne would be disappointed if he lost, but not for the reasons we thought. The real reason, he explained, was because they preferred him “boring on in City Hall” and out of their hair. This was particularly true of Osborne, he pointedly reflected. It was the briefest flicker of a hint of his wider political ambitions – even more striking because he would rarely raise the subject. Often, Crosby and Harri would tease him about it in briefing sessions, to which he would allow nothing more than a coy, slightly embarrassed smile. His analysis certainly had a point; it would be difficult for Boris to return to Parliament before the completion of a second term as Mayor. The triumvirate may have open channels of communication, but at the end of the day they’re still rivals.
We resolved that all we could do was keep hammering our positive themes on the one hand and make sure Ken’s taxes were still being talked about on the other.
Although we were nervous during these final days, if Boris was he didn’t show it. As we waited in the green room before the final live TV debate of the election on ITV, Boris stood outside gathering his thoughts. The other candidates seemed to ease off too. Ken Livingstone held court amongst the assortment of other candidates and advisors; loudly bemoaning the loss of a political drinking culture and how it had made politics a duller affair. He jovially explained that he could drink a bottle of wine and the only person that would notice any difference would be his wife.
After the debate, Boris and those of us with him decamped to a nearby steakhouse and had dinner. He was feeling confident and relaxed. It was one of the rare times that we had all switched off for a moment and just enjoyed each other’s company. Boris opened up quite a bit, expressing his admiration for Ken as the most resilient left wing politician of his era. Although he disliked him, he respected his opponent.
Another behind the scenes revelation from "Victory in London - the inside story of hte Boris campaign"