When Ed Miliband looks back on his early leadership, he will always wonder whether it would all have been different had Ken not been the candidate for mayor.
Today’s YouGov poll in the Evening Standard suggests that Boris Johnson will win, and that it will be Ken wot lost it for Labour.
The figures speak for themselves. A tenth of Labour assembly voters are backing Boris. Two-thirds of these say it not because they like Boris but because they “dislike Ken”. The conclusion is brutal: With a different candidate, Labour might be winning.
So Labour’s first task when the dust settles is to hold an inquest into how they apparently picked the wrong man to take on Boris Johnson and, by doing so, handed an unpopular Prime Minister a life-raft in a sea of local government losses.
It is not Mr Miliband’s fault. He inherited Mr Livingstone under a selection timetable that forced the party to choose its candidate for Mayor at exactly the same time as it was picking its leader in summer 2010.
That hasty timetable, agreed by the National Executive in May that year while Harriet Harman was acting leader, made it very difficult for Labour heavyweights from the previous Government to enter the race. Big name Londoners like Alan Johnson were still too much in recovery from Gordon Brown’s Cabinet to draw up manifestos for London. Oona King, the moderate former MP who did try, lacked the clout, ideas or record to beat a seasoned pro like Ken. Tessa Jowell, who helped bring the Olympics to London could have been a very distinctive and tough challenger to Boris, yet she somehow ended up as Ken's campaign chief.
Ken's fare cuts pledge was the single most popular policy from any candidate in this mayoral contest. But people preferred Boris anyway.
Tomorrow morning Mr Miliband will put on a big smile as Labour chalks up some 600 or 700 council seats around the country and takes around three more seats on the London Assembly.
But inwardly he ought to be furious if he does not claim the biggest scalp of all, the blond mop that looks set to stay at City Hall.
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