THE RACE to become London’s next Mayor is too close to call according to the latest survey from pollsters Ipsos MORI.

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The poll, published in Sunday’s Observer newspaper, suggests that taking into account voters’ second preferences, Tory candidate Boris Johnson (on 51 per cent) leads Labour’s Ken Livingstone (49 per cent) by two points. This follows a string of polls over the last ten days which confirm that the contest is on a knife-edge, with incumbent Mayor Livingstone leading by a whisker in a poll commissioned by the trade union Unison last week and Johnson ahead by a point or two in the rest.

These latest results contradict the early surveys by controversial online polling organisation YouGov which suggested Johnson enjoyed a commanding 12 point lead over Livingstone. The Labour candidate has launched an official complaint to the YouGov polls, claiming that their methodology is flawed as a third of Londoners do not have access to the internet, many of whom are poorer and more likely to support the centre-left candidates including Livingstone.

It’s hard to be sure who this early false lead benefited most. Ken’s camp clearly believes it boosted Boris’s chances by transforming him from the fun character to the serious contender.

Alternatively, the Tories may have become a tad complacent. It has been widely reported that assuming the post was theirs to lose, Conservative Central Office – under the direction of leader David Cameron – ordered Johnson to shy away from the media spotlight to avoid unnecessary loose-talk from the gaffe prone Henley MP. In contrast, Sunday Times columnist A.A. Gill says TV regular Johnson’s wide public appeal among the non-political classes is his greatest asset and should be milked for all it’s worth.

Meanwhile the Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick complained yesterday that his campaign suffered a slow start due to lack of media coverage for his third party. Paddick said that now that the campaign was officially on, he expected to benefit from increased TV exposure in the remaining days of the contest. If as expected, he trails Livingstone and Johnson, his second preference could be crucial in determining the overall winner. The Ipsos MORI suggests that this split is currently 52 to 36 per cent in Livingstone’s favour.

The Green Party’s candidate Siân Berry has put her weight behind voters using their second preference for Labour, further boosting Livingstone’s final round chances. In contrast, Johnson should pick up the bulk of second preferences from far-right and nationalist candidates such as UKIP.

Poll Update:
A new survey by under-fire pollsters YouGov published in the Evening Standard today (14 April 2008) shows Boris Johnson’s lead has halved. While their last poll claimed a 13% advantage in first preferences for the Conservative candidate, the latest sample shows this is now down to six per cent. Although this lead is considerably greater than those of other polling groups, it does confirm the trend toward a much tighter fight than initially indicated by YouGov.
Boris Johnson (Con): 45%
Ken Livingstone (Lab): 39%
Brian Paddick (Lib): 12%

Full list of Mayoral Candidates:
Richard Barnbrook – British National Party
Gerard Batten – UK Independence Party
Siân Berry – Green Party
Alan Craig – Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party
Lindsey German – Left List
Boris Johnson – Conservative Party
Ken Livingstone – Labour Party
Winston McKenzie – Independent
Matt O’Connor – English Democrats
Brian Paddick – Liberal Democrats