Many managers are familiar with the oak-aged poser of whether they’d prefer to be well liked or successful. It is a curious question in that it forces a choice: it is implicit that one cannot be both popular and prosperous. In recent years, management gurus have challenged that assumption, arguing that many of the most successful managers are also well liked: their empathy and enthusiasm rubs off on their staff.
In politics, things may have gone further. Rather than a choice, it seems popularity and electoral success may now go hand-in-hand. I was struck by a recent YouGov survey on the London mayoral race that examined how likeable the capital’s electorate found the main candidates.
Nobody can question the past successes of Ken. The twice-elected Mayor of London, and former leader of its forerunner the Greater London Council, remains one of the most remarkable politicians of the modern age. Yet today Ken is simply not well liked, even – and this is crucial – by many of Labour’s own supporters. Boris, by contrast, is popular even among opponents of the Conservative Party.
More evidence of this comes when examining voting intention. London is a Labour-supporting city. Even in 2010, when Gordon Brown’s party got mauled in the general election, it won 38 seats in the capital compared to 28 for the Conservatives. If there were a general election tomorrow, Labour would win the popular vote in London by around seven points.
So why then is Boris leading Ken in the mayoral race by almost exactly the same margin?
Answer: he’s just better liked.
Ken was likeable once – remember that, in the inaugural mayoral election in 2000, he stood as an independent and beat Labour in its own great citadel.
Now Boris is poised to do the same to Ken – for a second time. Ken’s tax affairs and his slightly unfair goading over Boris’s finances have put paid to what was left of Livingstone’s likeability, already severely damaged by a brutal Evening Standard campaign in the last mayoral race.
Ken might still win. The London Labour Party is a formidable machine, and its get-out-the-vote ground game on polling day is impressive. But I won’t be betting on a Livingstone mayoralty. In fact, I’ve placed money on an outcome that cuts across the old management question – that Ken will be both disliked and unsuccessful.