May 04, 2008 | Graham

How could climate sceptic Boris Johnson beat true believer Livingstone?

Boris Johnson is a well-known climate sceptic, and fellow sceptics are pointing this out to suggest that his victory means that climate scepticism isn’t a political handicap afterall.
I haven’t been paying a lot of attention to the UK local government elections, and we obviously don’t do any polling there, so this post is quite speculative. In fact, I’d welcome comment from voters or observers in London on the hypotheses I’m about to advance because they are the only ones who would know for certain what happened.
Knowing the style of Australian political advisors Crosby Textor, who ran Johnson’s campaign, and with some understanding of the issues, I’d guess that congestion charges, and the threat of more, but not necessarily greenhouse itself, were a strong factor in Johnson’s win, coupled to concerns about crime, housing and immigration.
After the Liberal Party’s drubbing in Australia’s last federal election, in large part because of its stance on greenhouse, it is unlikely that they would have launched a full-frontal attack on climate change polices per se. But it is quite possible that they pointed to the cost of such policies, like congestion charges, the fact that London is stil congested, and other problems that were seen to be more pressing, to make an argument that Livingstone was out of touch with real concerns, and ineffectual. In other words, the cost, and the lack of return for the cost, is likely to have been the issue, rather than fact of climate change.
Certainly Ken Livingstone tried to turn the election into a referendum on his environmental credentials. If his campaign advisors were competent this suggests that polling showed scepticism as a problem for Johnson. And if it was a weakness for Johnson, you can bet that Crosby Textor would have looked for a way to redefine the environment issue in ways that played to Johnson’s strengths. My bet is that Johnson’s strength would have been in the economy, and that the environmental issues would have been redefined as economic ones.
This is the mirror image of what happened in Australia where Labor managed to define the economy in terms of the environment.
So the takeout for sceptics and global warmers should likely be not that scepticism can be an asset or a liability, but that the public has a limited tolerance for measures that reduce their standard of living, and which have little or no measureable effect on the problem they are supposed to fix, while diverting attention from issues they see as more pressing.
Watch out Kevin Rudd if the boom stalls.

Posted by Graham at 2:27 pm | Comments (3) |


  1. Graham:
    Thanks to Blair and his cronies, Labour is now so well and truly despised and distrusted by Labour’s traditional voters that if Pol Pot or Adolf Hitler had been standing against Ken Livingstone, either would have romped in.
    Everyone I struck when I was there had an almost identical opinion about Ken Livingstone. I suppose what Londoners thought of Ken Livingstone was similar to what Queenslanders thought of Joh Bjelke-Petersen: everyone said they hated him but they kept voting him in – because they thought he could do the job.
    This is why Labour’s loss is a far bigger disaster for them than meets the eye.

    Comment by Graham Bell — May 4, 2008 @ 9:59 pm

  2. I have very little faith in our Kevin.He is too pre-occupied with his own image.This is why Peter Costello is considering his options.With the world economic climate looking so poor,a weak dithering Labor Party will not survive an electorate focused on economic survival.
    Be it the “Rock Treasurer” or the “Turning Bull”in opposition,Labor have serious credibility gaps to fill in terms of performance and actualising pre-electoral promises.
    The “Me Too” philosophy won’t be good enough.

    Comment by Arjay — May 4, 2008 @ 10:30 pm

  3. Everyone;
    Further to my earlier comment: I feel that if Ken Livingstone had stood as a Red Marxist Bolshevik Communist Proletariat candidate instead of as a Labour candidate. he might still be Lord Mayor of London.

    Comment by Graham Bell — May 5, 2008 @ 1:15 pm

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