Boris is in a fantastic position. He is seriously on for Mayor. He’s upped his game while Ken is self-destructing. There seems to be a new discipline that is essential for any genuine candidate. So long as Boris realises he’s only just begun, he could go all the way.
There’s been a huge shift in the mood among Londoners. The people I know who used to have a soft spot for Ken have nearly all hardened against him. There used to be a grudging acceptance that Ken was OK. Not any more. Only tribal supporters now give him credit. His disregard for the niceties of democracy have become unbearable.
Boris now needs to push that mood over the edge. The affable exterior of the celeb anti-politician will work best if we also feel some steeliness inside. Let us see a little toughness too, exercised on behalf of those millions of Londoners who don’t have cool lives. We’ve seen he is genuinely interested in law and order. He needs to get more controversial on the quality of policing, attacking the cosy ineffectiveness we see almost everywhere.
Whatever the Tories’ fear of talking about money, the scene is surely different for local tax. Whenever there has been a referendum for a local tax increase, it has been rejected. So much for the pundits assertion than people love their taxes (see more on this below). And nearly everyone believes that Ken has been sloshing it about, with no benefit to Londoners. Boris could say that he will lower the precept, and having done the calculations properly, he could guarantee a set amount of rebate to everyone.
If in doubt, he could let Londoners themselves decide. This would be only a slight extension of David Cameron’s sensible call for referenda if councils want to raise their taxes. Why not transfer some real power from politicians to citizens? Boris indicated an interest in referenda at the YouGov/ Evening Standard debate in January. If the Conservatives really want to change politics, this would be a great place for a practical start.
* Below I quote in full an article from The Independent of February 15 2001 by Cahal Milmo. I don’t know whether Bristol really ended up having to make school those cuts, still less whether any such cuts led to worsening education, but I do know that, given a genuine, believable opportunity, voters vote for tax cuts, whatever the clever pundits may say. And remember: This example is from 2001 when tax was much less of a burden than it is now. There haven't been many tax referenda since. I wonder why!?
VOTERS OF BRISTOL PICK SCHOOL CUTS OVER TAXES
The pioneering poll, ordered by the city's Labour-controlled council, produced a majority of nearly 54 per cent in favour of keeping tax down - more than double the figure of those willing to allow an increase. It is the first time that a local authority's voters have been asked to decide directly on the level of their council tax with results that are binding on officials and politicians.
Electoral experts predicted a flood of copy-cat ballots as councils move to Swiss-style local referendums to decide thorny spending issues.
Labour councillors in Bristol, who had claimed that the savings required for a council tax freeze would come from schools, reacted with disappointment but promised to honour the result.
George Micklewright, the leader of Bristol City Council, said: "One of the main reasons for the referendum was that we didn't know how many people thought it more important to increase spending on education. I am, naturally, disappointed that we were unable to persuade more people to support Labour's priority for education and this decision inevitably means cuts in school spending," he said. "But we will respect majority opinion and the referendum result will be carried forward to the council's budget meeting as a Labour proposal."
The £120,000 plebiscite asked voters to decide on four options: increasing council tax by 2 per cent, 4 per cent or 6 per cent or freezing it at the same level it has been for the past three years.
Supporters of the 6 per cent rise said it would have maintained services and realised an extra £2.2m for Bristol's schools. The 4 per cent rise would have made £1.7m available for education, it was claimed.
But, in a victory for the maxim that people vote with their wallets, the results showed few people in favour of extra spending. A total of 17.4 per cent voted for the 6 per cent rise, 18.2 per cent favoured a 4 per cent increase and 10.5 per cent were for an extra 2 per cent of spending. The majority (53.9 per cent) approved a budget freeze - more than the combined total (46.1 per cent) of those in favour of a rise.
Supporters of referendums were encouraged by the turn-out for the postal ballot, which was held over the past fortnight. A total of 115,076 people cast votes - 40.2 per cent of those eligible and 7 per cent more than voted in the latest local elections in Bristol.
Mr Micklewright said: "As an exercise in getting people involved in local democracy, the referendum has clearly been a great success. There can be no doubt that the result is representative of public opinion."
Political experts said that the poll, which followed a similar vote in Milton Keynes thath was not binding on its council, was likely to inspire a flood of similar ballots.
Owen Thomas, the chief of the Electoral Reform Society, which counted the Bristol votes, said: "We have had a lot of local authorities wanting to know how these sorts of things are carried out. I do expect it to increase."
Opposition politicians, meanwhile, attacked Labour claims that the £4.5m cut in the council budget would have to be found from education spending.
Pam Chesters, a prospective parliamentary candidate for the Conservatives in Bristol, said: "Residents are tired of paying excessive stealth taxes for little result. They know that by cutting waste, bureaucracy and introducing good housekeeping the council could provide better value."