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Published: 17 April 2008
Lib Dem supporter Alexis Rowell and Mayor Ken went head to head in Kilburn on Saturday
Lib Dem supporter Alexis Rowell and Mayor Ken went head to head in Kilburn on Saturday
Can Ken really beat Boris and Brian?

• Mayor pledges homes help • ‘Ministers ready to solve crisis’ • Sceptical rivals brand move ‘desperate’

KEN Livingstone has reached out to Camden’s council tenants by promising to take up the mammoth challenge of repairing the borough’s estates.
In his boldest pledge yet – dismissed by rivals as election bluster – Mr Livingstone said he will take control of housing finance in London and make sure that Camden finally gets a backlog of repairs sorted.
He painted himself as a white knight saviour in what has often been a bitter row between central government and the Town Hall.
Despite the inevitable cynicism about the timing of his intervention, there is genuine speculation that Mr Livingstone might be trusted by ministers to fix the stalemate.
The size of the promise has raised eyebrows among councillors of all political stripes in Camden.
But some Labour insiders have read the move as a potential attempt to set up Mr Livingstone as the perfect middle man in the row, giving ministers the chance to wash their hands of an embarrassing stand-off without snapping national policy.
Mr Livingstone said on Saturday: “I will be given £4 billion to spend in three years. I hope Camden will come and see me to talk about maintenance and refurbishment.”
Millions of pounds of funding has been refused for nearly five years simply because tenants will not join a national policy shift towards privatisation.
Tenants have lived in crumbling flats, waiting for help while politicians argue over strategy.
Mr Livingstone said he was angry Camden’s Liberal Democrat and Conservative coalition had tried to plug holes in the budget by selling off street properties.
“We need to do all we can to safeguard Camden’s homes,” he added. “Once these homes are sold, we will never be able to get them back.”
Alan Walter, from the Defend Council Housing pressure group, said: “Camden tenants will welcome the mayor’s commitment to bridge funding gaps on decent homes, but we need to see the colour of his money.
“We would also welcome the mayor joining with council tenants in London to get the government to finally secure the fourth option of direct investment.”
The timing of Mr Livingstone’s comments hasn’t escaped his critics.
While Liberal Democrat housing chief Councillor Chris Naylor cautiously welcomed the mayor’s interest, Conservative leader Councillor Andrew Marshall dismissed the offer of help as little more than “electioneering”.
He said: “I think people are beginning to see he is desperate. He is promising things on a lot of different issues to different local papers where he thinks he can get away it. But you don’t see the same pledges in his press releases on his website – it’s so he can’t get caught out on them in future.”
The row over what Mr Livingstone may or may not do if he wins a third term and his battle with Conservative challenger Boris Johnson in the May 1 election has completely overshadowed the election fight for the Barnet and Camden London Assembly seat.
On the surface, Labour has sent in a trusted general in Nicky Gavron to take on Tory member Brian Coleman.
But while the twinned boroughs once represented a marginal battle, the contest has lost much of its intrigue because Mr Coleman holds a hefty 11,000 majority, extended from a lead of around 500 during a convincing win in 2004. Some of the most durable Labour members across Camden are privately recognising that it is unlikely that they can win in the constituency.
Yet beating Brian is suddenly of secondary importance. Defending Ken against the threat of Boris – the showmanship surrounding the mayoral elections means that you hardly need their surnames – has become priority number one, with all hands on deck.
Labour supporters going door-to-door are not downbeat.
There are viperish words on Mr Coleman’s record in Camden and familiar moans about how the assembly elections are loaded in his favour because there are more eligible voters in Barnet – where Conservatives have always been strong – than in Camden, historically a power base for Labour.
If Camden was tied to Islington, the old argument goes, Labour would be facing a fairer fight.
Yet many of Labour’s foot soldiers on the street haven’t relished an election fight so much in a while, not least because they are facing fewer questions about Iraq on the doorstep this time around.
Some say they have enjoyed taking more time picking apart Mr Johnson’s manifesto, particularly on housing where the Conservative challenger has said he will dump guidelines that advise developers to include 50 per cent worth of affordable housing in new developments.
If you ask Mr Coleman, he might repeat his joke that Mr Johnson will do the photo shoots while Mr Coleman “runs London” if the Tories win.
Ms Gavron, who has raced from issue to issue over the past few weeks, commenting on everything from the Camden Town fire to youth club provision, trying to get a girls cricket team reinstated to a Londonwide tournament in the process, is expected to be re-elected regardless of her showing against Mr Coleman.
As deputy mayor, she is top of Labour’s list of candidates and when the assembly is topped up with extra members through a system of proportional representation, she should get back in.
Her role in the elections, according to insiders, is to draw out every possible vote rather than overhaul Mr Coleman.
There is a “turnout is everything” mantra rippling through Camden’s Labour Party, with the view that the British National Party are more likely to gain a foothold in the Assembly if people stay at home.
Ms Gavron’s push is also designed to bounce through more Labour support for Mr Livingstone with the polls so tight.
“Nicky will work her socks off but the chance to beat Coleman was four years ago,” said one source. “She can get the message that people have to get and vote out or face the reality of having what we all deep down know would be an absolute buffoon as mayor.”
In the background, the Lib Dems will be analysing the London results. Also unlikely to beat Mr Coleman and with mayoral candidate Brian Paddick rated as an outsider, the party’s campaign has been seen more as a taster for the longer term target of unseating Glenda Jackson in Hampstead and Kilburn – a far bigger prize in Lib Dem eyes.

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