Sign of the times

Like the first cuckoo, frogspawn or daffodil, dire warnings of anarchists hijacking peaceful anti-capitalist protests seem to come round earlier each year.

This year\’s star turn is one Alessio Lunghi, who is alleged to be proposing \’black bloc\’ tactics (whereby protestors dress identically to avoid identification) for the G20 Summit at the end of this month.

So far, so business as usual What is interesting this year is that, at the time of writing, these pernicious anarchists and their proposals to seize the ill-gotten gains of the capitalist system, appear to be getting a fair degree of support from on-line commentators in the Evening Standard (not known to be a house journal for the global resistance movement).

The main debate seems to be whether precipitating state repression and perhaps revolution through these tactics is appropriate, not whether the call to \’RECLAIM THE MONEY, storm the banks and send them packing\’ is right or wrong in itself.

After the flood?

So, how much has Ken Livingstone been damaged by the relentless revelations that culminated this week in Lee Jasper\’s resignation?

The last poll published, by YouGov last month, showed Boris Johnson leading Ken Livingstone, by 44 points to 39 (a reversal of their positions a month previously), though the strongest gains were made by Brian Paddick, whose share of first preference votes increased from eight to 12 per cent.

In the wacky world of the mayoral election system, however, these first preferences are only part of the story. On this basis, the second preferences of those people voting for Paddick (and minority candidates) as their first choice, would be re-distributed among the front-runners. So the critical question is whether Paddick\’s votes are \’anyone but Ken\’ or \’anyone but Boris\’. That will make all the difference.

The fieldwork for the YouGov poll was conducted between 19 and 21 February, so the situation may well have worsened since then, as cringe-making personal emails became Lee Jasper\’s undoing. But, if the polls are only this bad, following weeks of destabilising and embarassing revelations, the Mayor might be forgiven for feeling a glimmer of optimism. Lee Jasper has resigned, the sheet has been wiped clean, a new beginning beckons…

And yet. It\’s always struck me as curious the fact that Andrew Gilligan\’s Lee-gate campaign began in December last year, fully six months before the mayoral election. Didn\’t such an early start run the risk that allegations would become old news in voters\’ minds by May? Shouldn\’t he have been keeping his powder dryer?

In today\’s Standard, in an article that gently chides Johnson for sloppy attention to detail on transport policy, Gilligan writes a sentence that might strike fear into hearts at City Hall: \”Luckily for Boris, all these questions have so far been largely drowned out by the ongoing Jasperama. I can promise more such entertainments in the future.\”

Gilligan is an odd and obsessive character, and this may be grandstanding. But, in the week when William Hill made Boris Johnson the favourite, I wouldn\’t want to bet on it.

Paper tigers

It must be depressing being Victoria Borwick, Warwick Lightfoot, Andrew Boff or Lurline Champagne. Magnificent names aside, these putative Conservative candidates for the London mayoral election in 2008 are already eclipsed by Planet Boris. Former DJ Mike Read has thrown his questionable weight behind the bumptious blonde on the Guardian\’s Comment is Free website, prompting ribald comment and cruel queries about when fellow DJ Nicey will make his intentions clear.

What promises to be a lively contest will be made livelier still by the fact that London now has two evening papers, which are already making their picks.

The current Mayor\’s loathing for the Evening Standard (and London Lite, its free sister paper), published by Associated Newspapers, is fully reciprocated, so it was no surprise that the paper gave Boris Johnson the platform to launch his candidacy yesterday, and followed it up today with tenuous tales of a \’Boris bounce\’, based on Facebook entries and a pretty ambiguous poll.

The London Paper, the freebie anti-Standard spoiler launched by News International last year, has been less explicit about its preferences (and lacks the formal editorial column to make these clear). But today it gave Ken Livingstone a column to attack his opponent, and further space to a less than glowing portrait by Johnson\’s biographer, Andrew Gimson.

The brutal war being waged between Associated Newspapers and News International (and their proxies in London politics) has opened up a new front. This is about more than politics; this is about circulation.