Letterboxes across London this week have been receiving the official information booklet for May’s London Mayor and Assembly elections, complete with a two-page election address from each of the Mayor candidates.
For all the value of the detail of the booklet, the reality is that most voters only glance briefly through such a publication. The initial, quick impression each candidate gives matters far more than the detail of what they say in third paragraph, fourth sentence. Those sentences only make it into wider prominence if an embarrassing typo makes them into diary column fodder or if policy naivety means a small detail can be turned into a tabloid front page shock story.
So what quick impressions do the candidates leave? In their different ways, both Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick pass this test on simple policy grounds. A quick look at Livingstone’s pages gives you the message he wants to cut fares and a similarly quick look at the Paddick pages gets you his message about being an ex-copper wanting to cut crime.
Both campaigns have staked a large part of their fortune on these simple messages and the booklet reinforces them.
As for the incumbent Mayor, Boris Johnson’s own manifesto highlights the issue his campaign has been grappling with. A quick look at it gives you no one clear policy priority, but it does give you lots of details. In other words the message from his campaign is – he’s not a joker, he’s a serious chap doing a lot. That certainly counters on the major potentially weaknesses of Boris Johnson’s candidacy, but the failure to communicate one simple message in the Livingstone and Paddick style is a missed opportunity.
Amongst the other candidates, the independent Siobhan Benita is the one that many people will turn to wondering quite who she is and what she stands for (other than for getting lots of media coverage for complaining that she isn’t getting lots of media coverage).
There is a touch of the 1980s SDP about her message. Lots of emphasis on her serious political experience, though is having been a senior civil servant in the Treasury a positive or a negative given how the economy turned out? (Service in the Cabinet Office is unlikely to be held against her, even if my experience of it has been one of a department in splendid administrative chaos.) Lots of talk too about fixing problems by creating new posts. Education? Let’s have an education commissioner. All very SDP and very little on any political values other than ‘let’s just be sensible’. In her manifesto, there are no choices to be made between different political values.
But whichever candidate takes your fancy in the booklet, the social network winners are clear – only Facebook and Twitter get mentions from the candidates. In the losing corner is not only other social networks, but also email. Despite email’s massive popularity, more heavily used than even Facebook, most candidates do not provide an email address. An odd choice for candidates saying they want to listen to Londoners.