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A vote for Ken as London Mayor is a tactical no-brainer given the alternatives, argues Matt Houlihan

Boris Johnson and Ken LivingstoneThe race to be Mayor of London is underway again, and the arguments and the partisans are much the same as 2008. But this time London has experienced the 'Boris' brand. What will the electoral response be?

London has deteriorated under Johnson' incompetent, divisive and sleazey tenure. His biographer offers a damning portrait of the questionable practices during his term, writing that:
"Whoever wins in May should not be allowed to use City Hall as a personal fiefdom and taxpayers' money as a political warchest. Johnson promised transparency when he was first elected in 2008. That looks like a promise that has long been forgotten."

London has witnessed rising public transport prices, a single bus journey now costs £1.35 and will continue to rise, hitting the poorest hardest.

Housing is in crisis. Squatting, the right to inhabit an empty abandoned space, is under attack and the million-odd empty properties, owned by the rich, will stand vacant as people continue to freeze on the streets.

Meanwhile, homelessness is accelerating, and the government offers no support.

Westminster council famously tried to ban charitable soup kitchens, and now London boroughs including Olympic host council, Newham, are looking to drive out their most vulnerable residents under the impact of the housing benefit cap.

The riots, too, exposed the class prejudices of Johnson's tenure. The depth of resentment at a political class completely cut off from an unfolding social crisis is palpable.

Johnson blithely ignores much of this, focusing instead on the Olympics. Helped along by Tory snake-oil salesman Seb Coe, this looks increasingly looks like a corporate orgy. Sponsors now include Dow Chemicals, responsible for the Bhopal disaster.

Johnson and the Metropolitan Police are also using the event to whip up terrorist scare stories, aiming to justify a massive militarisation of the Met - on what looks set to become a permanent footing - conveniently clamping down on protest.

The Evening Standard, bastion of reactionary propaganda, now owned by Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev, is a major weapon for Johnson. Happily for him, new editor of the Standard is Sarah Sands, a close family friend, conveniently appointed editor in time for the election.

Ken Livingstone is Johnson's main competitor in this election, standing for Labour. Livingstone originally stood as an independent in 2000, winning handsomely, but has since moved closer and closer to the Labour leadership. His last term in office was notable for its unwavering support for the City and big business. For this election, he has tacked close to Ed Balls' brand of austerity lite, instead of tapping in to anti-austerity (and anti-war) sentiment - a policy which secured George Galloway his victory in Bradford West.

Livingstone built his reputation as a maverick outsider and seems to have misjudged his own appeal - being both too close to Labour to avoid their weaknesses, and yet not sufficiently close to overcome his own. Boris Johnson, meanwhile, has been allowed off the leash by a desperate Cameron, and has attempted to distance himself from the Tories with some success.

Ken's policies at least offer some prospects of mild improvements in the standards of living for ordinary Londoners, like the promise to reduce the costs of public transport and reinstitute the Education Maintenance Allowance. They recognise the real hardship many of us now face. The contrast with Johnson's business-as-usual - particularly for business - approach is glaring. He will argue better politics than a Tory Mayor and his victory would represent a significant Conservative defeat. However weak his campaign has become on the core issue of austerity, it can become one more step towards creating a mass anti-austerity movement.

It's worth noting just how much of the anti-Livingstone propaganda has been fomented by those on his own side. The dinosaurs of New Labour still wield significant power inside the party, and are spoiling to remove feeble Ed Miliband in the event of Livingstone losing. Not only will the Tories crow from the rooftops if Livingstone loses. The Tony Blair fanclub will be elated.

The stifling atmosphere of austerity, and rising class hatred of the Tories will, I hope, decide this election. Set against that is a wave of mass-produced smears against Ken Livingstone, delivered in time to steal the Mayoralty. Johnson's re-election campaign is spending a staggering ten times the funds Ken has available, largely through big private donors. But this contest is nowhere near decided as honest polls are neck and neck.

Our job is to keep the arguments to the economic and political facts, avoid personalised banter and help deliver a decisive defeat for the Coalition as one act in a wider strategic movement.

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