Bad News, Gordon Brown

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The fool has unseated the mighty. Despite the scandals, hard right politics and his reputation for buffoonery, the conservative candidate Boris Johnson has been elected the new Mayor of London with a clear majority.

In London and on the broader national stage, the night was a disaster for Labour.

Saying that there was nothing else the Labour Party could have done to get him re-elected, Ken Livingstone’s eight year hold on the mayoralty has ended with him taking full responsibility for his loss.

Johnson won with 53.2 per cent of the vote to Livingstone’s 46.8 per cent once second preferences had been allocated. A record turn-out of voters was recorded.

The result has polarised London. In Australian terms, the mood in the UK capital is comparable to Keating’s loss to Howard in 1996 or Jeff Kennett’s arrival into office in Victoria in 1992. Conservatives are celebrating the return of their party championed by an unlikely hero. Progressives are struggling to accept that the people have spoken and that Boris "the joke" is the new Mayor.

Adding to the sense of political divergence, a member of the far-right British National Party has been elected to the Greater London Council for the first time.

Johnson’s victory speech, which began with a weak pun, seemed set to confirm fears. But the Mayor-elect soon settled down, paying gracious tribute to his predecessor. The script was so tight that you could almost see the wires. Johnson then outlined a vision of safe centrism: "cutting crime, improving transport, protecting green space, delivering affordable housing, giving taxpayers value for money."

David Cameron will be desperate for Johnson to continue in this moderate vein until the national election is held, probably in 2010.

Livingstone’s defeat was coupled with the loss of more than 300 Labour local councillors throughout the country. Labour’s overall vote in the municipal poll stood at only 24 per cent, pushing the party into third place behind the Liberal Democrats.

Some safe and long-held Labour councils have fallen in to Tory hands. If these results were transposed onto a General Election result, the Conservative leader David Cameron would be Prime Minister with a majority of well over 100 seats.

The Liberal Democrats’ gains were smaller but enough to push them into second place and leave newish leader Nick Clegg secure in his job.

In the wake of the debacle, Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown has vowed "to listen and to lead" in charting his party back to electoral success. Perhaps the very scale of the challenge facing Brown will yet be the making of his premiership. But there is little time left.

Facing financial uncertainty, the working and middle classes are being squeezed by economic pressure from the corporate top. The scrapping of the 10 pence tax rate for the first £2,230 of taxable income in the March national budget crystallised the sense that Brown’s Government was out of touch.

Already, there are influential calls from the left for the Party to immediately shift to a more progressive course reflecting more traditional Labour priorities.

New Labour is looking very old indeed. And when not perceived as anchored in enduring values, a brand out of fashion is hard to redeem.

New Matilda

New Matilda is independent journalism at its finest. The site has been publishing intelligent coverage of Australian and international politics, media and culture since 2004.

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