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London's colorful Mayor Boris Johnson wins second term

The victory over Ken Livingstone after a profanity-laced campaign means that Boris Johnson will be the face of London as it welcomes millions of people to the Summer Olympics.

May 05, 2012|By Henry Chu, Los Angeles Times
  • Boris Johnson, right, waits while his main opponent, Ken Livingstone, speaks after Johnson was declared the winner of the London mayoral race.
Boris Johnson, right, waits while his main opponent, Ken Livingstone,… (Leon Neal, AFP/Getty Images )

LONDON — It's another gold medal for BoJo.

Boris Johnson won a second term as mayor of London on Friday in a marquee contest between two of Britain's biggest personalities to run the country's biggest city.

Johnson's victory after a hard-fought, profanity-laced campaign guarantees that it will be his endearingly goofy face, framed by a perpetually awful haircut, that will welcome millions of spectators and athletes to the Summer Olympics here in the British capital, which kick off in less than three months.

But many of the challenges from Johnson's first term remain, including how to improve London's creaky infrastructure and maintain its status as a world-class city fit for the 21st century.

The closely watched race between Johnson and Ken Livingstone (with other candidates far behind) was a rerun of the 2008 election, except their roles were reversed back then: Livingstone was the sitting mayor and Johnson the upstart. This time the incumbent prevailed, though by a slim margin: 51.5% of the vote for Johnson to 48.5% for Livingstone.

"I will dedicate myself to making sure that Londoners, and above all, young Londoners, are ready to take the jobs that this amazing city creates," Johnson said after the result was announced. "And I will continue to fight for a good deal for Londoners, a good deal from the government, that will help us deliver prosperity for everyone in this city."

Johnson's win was the brightest spot of news Friday for his Conservative Party, which was soundly thrashed in other local elections across Britain. Two years into power at the national level, the Conservatives have seen their popularity plummet over the last few months as the result of a series of government missteps and the painful effects of the harshest austerity cuts seen in at least a generation.

Though voter turnout was low, those who did go to the polls Thursday turned the Conservatives out of more than 400 local council seats, according to results tabulated Friday. The Liberal Democrats, the Conservatives' junior partner in Britain's ruling coalition, lost more than 300.

The opposition Labor Party picked up more than 800 seats, gaining control of local government in key places such as Birmingham in central England, Britain's second-largest city, and Cardiff, the capital of Wales.

"This is a Labor Party getting back in touch with people, getting back in touch with people's concerns," said Ed Miliband, the leader of the party, which was ousted from power in 2010 after 13 years. "Labor knows the battle to regain trust is an ongoing battle."

In a country where questions of class always lurk below the surface, Miliband has gained traction with his argument that the government of Prime Minister David Cameron is more concerned with cosseting the wealthy with tax cuts than protecting Britain's poorest and most vulnerable residents.

The London mayoral race bucked the pro-Labor trend in large part because it was always more a clash of colorful, outsized personalities than one of political ideology.

Johnson, 47, has won a reputation as a charming, highly entertaining Conservative maverick who's not afraid to go against the party line or say what he thinks, even when that includes a string of unprintable four-letter words that he unleashed on his rival, Livingstone, in an elevator after an acrimonious radio debate. (He also used those words while on camera with the BBC.)

His penchant for literate but amusing sound bites — not many politicians can use the word "pupate" and get away with it — has endeared him to many Londoners.

By contrast, Livingstone, 66, known as "Red Ken" because of his Trotskyite tendencies, has had slightly more trouble connecting with voters despite a relatively successful 2000-2008 mayoralty that witnessed the implementation of a "congestion charge" on motorists in central London to help relieve traffic.

henry.chu@latimes.com

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