What will the absence of a Jarvis factor mean for this time?
Even before the opinion polls swung against him I had doubts over whether Ken could secure a third term because of the special circumstances of his 2004 victory. Ken’s margin then was not overwhelming and might have been smaller but for the day job of the Tory challenger, Steve Norris.
The election then was always going to be a tough ask for Ken because to win he needed supporters of other parties to switch in the mayoral ballot and that was undoubtedly more challenging as the official Labour candidate compared with his victory as an independent in 2000.
One factor that helped, I would argue, was the impact of the Potters Bar train crash and Steve Norris’s decision nine months beforehand to become chairman of Jarvis – the engineering firm that faced an investigation into its maintenance of the track at the site of the accident.
It should be said that Norris took the top job some time after the crash but being associated with the firm probably impeded his chances.
Thus in the campaign the Lib Dems issued millions of leaflets with dramatic pictures of the scene. Then in the week of the election the writer, Nine Bawden, who had lost her husband in the crash and had been seriously injured herself, made a highly publicised and impassioned statement on behalf of the crash victims and their families. She said: “Steve Norris is not a fit candidate to be London mayor as head of Jarvis. Jarvis is still trying to escape responsibility for the deaths of seven people and injuries to many others.”
Even so Norris did better in 2004 running against “Labour Ken” rather than “Independent Ken” but there was still evidence that Tory supporters in the GLA ballot had been reluctant to give him their votes for Mayor.
Without the Jarvis factor the 2004 result would surely have been closer and, I believe, the 2008 election would have been looked at differently. If the winning margin had been, say, 2-3% rather than the actual 10.8% there would have been less surprise now over Ken’s vulnerability.
There are many things you can say about Boris Johnson but being chairman of Jarvis is not one of them – and that, along with his party doing substantially better nationally, might be why things could be different this time.