Cameron Poised to Benefit as Johnson Set for Re-Election

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Prime Minister David Cameron
Prime Minister David Cameron's personal approval rating has dropped to its lowest ever. Photographer: Jock Fistick/Bloomberg

London’s Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson, is poised to win re-election today, providing Prime Minister David Cameron with some relief after more than a month of damaging headlines.

Polls over the past week have shown Johnson extending his lead over Ken Livingstone, the former mayor who is running for the opposition Labour Party. That goes against a national trend that has seen Labour taking support away from the Conservatives. Labour is likely to gain hundreds of the 4,800 local-council seats being contested across Britain today.

Support for the Conservatives has slumped to the lowest since the coalition government came to power two years ago. Cameron has faced a backlash over the March 21 budget that raided charities and pensioners to help fund an income-tax cut for the rich; the economy has slipped back into recession; and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to quit. Labour has termed it an “omnishambles.” A win for Johnson in London, where Labour traditionally outperforms, would hearten the embattled premier.

“In a political environment of cuts, omnishambles and the mess the government is in, it would be devastating for Labour for Boris to win,” Andrew Hawkins, the chairman of polling company ComRes Ltd., said in a telephone interview. For the Tories, “it will send the message that they are still electable in London, despite everything that’s going on.”

Johnson Lead

The latest poll in London, carried out from April 30 to May 2 for the Evening Standard newspaper, gave Johnson a lead of 53 percent to 47 percent over Livingstone in the decisive second round of counting, when second-preference votes from the five minor candidates are totted up. YouGov Plc questioned 2,119 Londoners online and its voter predictions are based on the 1,238 respondents who said they were certain to vote. No margin of error was given.

Polling opened at 7 a.m. and will continue until 10 p.m. The vote count in the capital won’t start until tomorrow morning, with the result due in the evening. Before then, most results will be in from elsewhere in Britain, and they’re likely to favor Labour.

A national YouGov poll for The Sun newspaper put Labour ahead of the Tories by 41 percent to 32 percent, extending a lead that stood at 5 points on budget day. Cameron’s Liberal Democrat coalition partners were on 9 percent, less than half their level of support in the May 2010 general election. YouGov questioned 1,744 adults on April 30 and May 1. No margin of error was given.

Tory Slide

Labour’s lead is close to the 10-point average in recent weeks, a figure that may see the opposition party gain about 700 council seats at the expense of the government parties, according to calculations by local-election analysts Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings of the University of Plymouth.

The Tories’ ratings have been sliding as the biggest spending cuts since World War II take effect. More than 700,000 public-sector jobs will be eliminated by 2017 to help slash a budget deficit totaling 8 percent of gross domestic product. Data last week showed the economy sliding into the first double-dip recession since the 1970s.

Government missteps have included attempts to prepare for a possible fuel-truck drivers’ strike that led to panic-buying of gasoline and a muddle over attempts to deport a terrorist suspect to Jordan. Hunt’s special adviser resigned last week after e-mails revealed he leaked sensitive information to News Corp. while his boss was deciding whether to allow Rupert Murdoch’s company to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.

‘Posh Boys’

Cameron, 45, and Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, 40, have been denounced as out-of-touch even by members of their own party. The premier’s personal approval rating has dropped to its lowest ever.

“Not only are Cameron and Osborne two posh boys who don’t know the price of milk, but they are two arrogant posh boys who show no remorse, no contrition, and no passion to want to understand the lives of others,” Tory lawmaker Nadine Dorries told BBC television last month.

In London, though, Johnson is benefiting from support that that crosses party lines. Ten percent of Labour supporters said they would back Johnson and another 10 percent said they would not vote for either of the main candidates, according to today’s YouGov poll. If they all voted for Livingstone he’d defeat Johnson by 54 percent to 46 percent.

Johnson’s Labour Boost

Almost two thirds of Labour supporters who prefer Johnson said they disliked Livingstone, showing Labour chose a mayoral candidate who has “lost his electoral appeal,” YouGov said. Half of London voters regard Johnson as “charismatic.”

“The Conservatives’ best hope for a victory is Boris Johnson in London, so if he wins they’ll be focusing on that and trying to use it to draw a line under recent difficulties before moving on to the Queen’s Speech,” next week’s set-piece event at which the monarch sets out the government’s new legislative program, YouGov pollster Anthony Wells wrote on his U.K. Polling Report website.

Even though Labour is set for local-council gains, its leader, Ed Miliband, may still come under pressure if defeat in London is matched by a poor performance in elections in Scotland’s biggest city, Glasgow, a traditional stronghold, where the Scottish National Party has been building in strength.

Miliband’s approval rating is still lower than Cameron’s, YouGov surveys show, fueling speculation that he may not head the party at the next general election in 2015.

Should Livingstone overcome all the odds and pull off a Labour win in London, that would raise an unwelcome specter for Cameron and Osborne: Johnson as a free agent, popular with the Conservative rank and file and maybe in search of a seat in the House of Commons as a future contender for the Tory leadership.

“If Boris were not to win, he would put the blame on George and Dave,” John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University in Glasgow, said in a telephone interview. “That would be the last thing they would want: to have Boris running around Westminster on the loose.”

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