INTERVIEW: The inside story of how Boris won London

Illustrated rainbow pride flag on a pink background.

Jonathan Isaby is in good spirits when we meet at The Daily Telegraph headquarters in central London.

The political journalist, blogger and man about town is rightly proud of the new book he has jointly written with BBC staffer Giles Edwards about the election campaign for Mayor of London.

Boris v. Ken: How Boris Johnson Won London is the first definitive account of one of the most remarkable political contests of the 21st century.

Londoners seem to have settled down to the idea of an old Etonian in charge of their bewilderingly diverse city, and it is hard to remember that less than a year ago the Tory party was desperate for a candidate and the Lib Dems thought they might win.

Even political junkies struggle to recall a time when Ken Livingstone seemed unassailable and Greg Dyke was being considered as a candidate – by the Conservative party.

Boris v. Ken is a timely and extremely effective account of the race for Mayor, with interesting insights into the psychology of the candidates and the methods used by the team around Boris to secure victory. started by asking Jonathan what prompted him and his former flatmate Giles Edwards to write the book.

“Well we were actually asked to write it.

The top dog at Politicos approached Giles last autumn, in fact, and said: ‘This is going to be a fascinating election. It’s a election that needs a book writing about it’ and he asked Giles to do it.

Giles invited me to come on board and between us we set about tackling it.

It’s interesting because there was a book about the 2000 election but nothing was written about 04’ which was a pretty damp squib.

Because it was in planning for some time it obviously didn’t have the title ‘How Boris Johnson won the election’ in the beginning because we didn’t know that was going to be the result!

How did Boris win London?

Through several factors at work. One the one hand there is the strategy that we outline in some detail in the book about Tories targeting.

It was far more complicated than a ‘doughnut strategy’ which was what people talked about in the media at the time.

There are 625 wards in London and they had taken 329 and said ‘those are the ones we need to get the Tory vote, if we get them in those wards we will win it.’

Those were wards all across London, not just outer London boroughs but inner London too and across every borough.

Clearly there are some boroughs that don’t have a very strong Tory presence, but there are always pockets and they targeted them vigorously.

In the wider picture how did Boris win?

I’d say he out Kenned Ken if you like.

We made a point in the book that Boris and Ken are actually very similar personalities in politics.

Charming, charismatic, media savvy, witty, self deprecating, independent-minded.

Ken in his heyday was very much an anti-politician politician and Boris certainly is that now.

Both of those characters had an appeal to the people who weren’t interested in politics or didn’t like politicians. Somehow they’ve managed to connect with a lot of people who weren’t interested.

Do you think that the Boris strategy is going to inform the Tories strategy at the next general election?

Clearly there are lots of lessons to be learnt and lots of people who will be involved in running a Tory strategy at the next election will have been involved in this campaign.

Lynton Crosby ran the Tory campaign and at the last general election he only had six months in order to do it whereas he only had five months on this one and this is just London.

London is a different kettle of fish to the country as a whole.

There will be lessons for them to learn there, will be people who will be able to take those lessons across and see how they can use those all across the country.

Lynton Crosby is a very influential man he is still friends with a lot of people involved in the party, his business has an office in London, he passes through every now and again, and I’m sure he will be sharing his thoughts.

Was there a point at which Boris or the Conservative party realised Boris might win, and then brought in Crosby?

No it’s the other way round in fact.

Before Lynton Crosby came in there was huge panic inside Conservative HQ as to whether the Boris campaign was drifting nowhere.

There was serious worry about not having raised enough money, just not having a joined up strategy to run the election.

The key pivotal points were firstly getting Lord Marland in as treasurer, and then he and George Osborne persuading Crosby to come over to run the campaign.

It was around Christmas time that deal was done.

Crosby spoke to Boris over Christmas and literally at the beginning of January people who worked with Boris, knew Boris, friends with Boris, spoke to us about it and said the change in Boris was absolutely clear.

Basically he realised that it could be done and certainly Crosby persuaded him that it was winnable and that he had to work at it.

Why was his campaign not like that in the beginning, did Central Office not think he was going to win?

When he was persuaded to run, there were question marks as to quite what role David Cameron had.

My personal view is that Cameron was pretty key in persuading him to do it.

Certainly I think they would have thought, of all the people to come forward as potential candidates, they realised that none of them had the “X factor,” none of them were going to beat Ken Livingstone to be quite frank.

They had to find a candidate they thought could win on paper, which is how we got Boris in the first place.

But once Boris was in place as Tory candidate by the end of September, you then had several months of drift and concern that actually it was all going to fall to pieces.

That is how Crosby came in. Of course none of this, talking about the Tory strategy in terms of how they won it, is to underestimate the other factor – the influence of Andrew Gilligan, the Evening Standard and the anti-Ken campaign. That was outside the Conservative party’s doing.

Ken himself has to take some of the blame for the way he reacted to the Standard.

Some would criticise the fact that the Standard pursued this agenda and ran lots of articles attacking him but quite frankly they had good lead stories, leaked emails all the rest of it.

Do you think Ken will be back – he is already talking about the fact that he might run in 2012?

My hunch is that the London Labour party are going to want to find somebody new.

He will be 67 years old at the next election.

It’s interesting that one of the first names already mooted as a possible Labour candidate is Alan Sugar – he is only a couple years younger than Ken Livingstone.

Alan Sugar is one of those people who for me would tick all of the boxes of what a Mayoral candidate should be. Someone who has a personal reputation, not necessarily as a politician but a personal representation in some field, business for him.

Somebody with personal name recognition already, somebody the public warm to, somebody who is a well-known name, someone who would have an appeal to a base wider than that of the party whose rosette he would wear.

Ken used to be that but after eight years running London he had become the establishment.

You can’t run as the anti-establishment candidate when you have been in charge for eight years. That’s obviously where Boris was able to trump him this time.

Boris v. Ken: How Boris Johnson Won London by Jonathan Isaby and Giles Edwards is on sale now.

INTERVIEW: The inside story of how Boris won London