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Conservative Boris Johnson won a second term as mayor of London, defeating Labour’s Ken Livingstone and providing Prime Minister David Cameron with some comfort after a day of local-election losses for the government.
Johnson took 51.5 percent of the vote to Livingstone’s 48.5 percent in the decisive second round of counting, winning another four years in office after a campaign largely dominated by the personalities of two leading candidates known universally by their first names. Livingstone observed afterward that Johnson had secured a platform to run for the leadership of his party when Cameron steps down.
“I suspect this result has settled the question of the next Tory leadership election,” Livingstone said in his concession speech in London’s City Hall early today. Johnson promised to “get a good deal from the government” for London.
Across the rest of the country, the May 3 local elections saw the Conservatives lose 405 seats on local councils, more than a quarter of those they previously held, according to a tally by the British Broadcasting Corp. Labour added 823 seats and gained control of Birmingham, Britain’s second-largest city, Cardiff, the Welsh capital, and 30 other councils. It also won a majority in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest city. Extrapolated nationally, the results gave Labour a projected lead over the Tories of 38 percent to 31 percent, the BBC said.
Appearing with Johnson today at City Hall, Cameron said he had enjoyed backing his bid for re-election.
“I think it was a very strong campaign by Boris,” Cameron said in televised comments. “It was based on his record, on the excellent things he has done out there and I am delighted to congratulate him. It was a campaign the whole Conservative party got behind.”
Peter Kellner, the president of pollster YouGov Plc, said Johnson had shown he could “reach the parts that other politicians cannot reach.”
Support nationwide 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 penalized charities and pensioners and provided an income-tax cut for the rich; the economy has slipped back into recession; and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt is under pressure to quit amid questions over his impartiality during News Corp.’s aborted bid to take full control of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc.
“These are difficult times and there aren’t easy answers,” Cameron told broadcasters yesterday. “What we have to do is take the difficult decisions to deal with the debt, deficit and broken economy that we’ve inherited. We will go on making those decisions and we’ve got to do the right thing for our country.”
His Liberal Democrat coalition partners also suffered, losing 336 council seats and falling to their lowest number since the party was formed in 1988.
In London, Johnson emerged as more popular than his party nationally. His personal support held up even though there was a swing from the Tories to Labour in polling for the London Assembly, the body that holds the mayor to account.
London’s mayor has the largest personal constituency of any British politician, with 5.8 million voters. Only the French president has a bigger electorate in western Europe. That gives mayoral candidates a platform to speak on any issue.
Johnson, 47, who told the BBC following his victory that he has no plan to stand for election to parliament in 2015, has fought his share of battles with party leaders. Originally a journalist, he gained notoriety for scrapes including being fired as a trainee from the Times newspaper for making up a quote from his own godfather.
This didn’t stop him rising to edit the Spectator magazine, and in 2001 he was elected to Parliament. His first stint as a party spokesman there lasted seven months until he was fired for lying to the then Conservative leader, Michael Howard, about an extra-marital affair exposed by the News of the World newspaper.
Since becoming mayor, Johnson has regularly criticized Cameron’s policies, arguing for lower taxes for the rich and an end to “banker-bashing.” He attacked plans to reduce social- housing subsidies, saying they’d push poorer people out of central London and lead to “Kosovo-style social cleansing.”
Johnson pledged during the campaign to push for the introduction of driverless trains on London’s Underground rail network and to fight labor unions that have been able to disrupt services with strikes. He’s pressing a plan to build a new airport for the capital in the Thames Estuary to overcome congestion at Heathrow, Europe’s busiest hub.
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