Why Tories Both Need -- and Fear -- a Johnson Victory; Boris Can Halt the Labour Surge and Deflect Attention from Post-Budget Troubles. but the Cameroons Would Pay a Price

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Byline: Matthew d'Ancona

[bar] F BORIS Johnson wins a second term tomorrow, I shall look back on one moment above all as the symbolic deal-clincher. Not his ferocious confrontation in a lift with Ken Livingstone on April 3, galvanic as that undoubtedly was. Not the Labour challenger's breach with London's Jewish community. Not even the kamikaze lunacy of his attack on Boris's tax arrangements -- the craziest instance of political self-harm since the Democrat presidential contender, Gary Hart, invited the press corps in 1987 to "follow me around" in search of evidence of his womanising, leading them straight to his antics on a yacht unimprovably named Monkey Business. No: for me, the moment of psephological clarity occurred last week when I read John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, quoted in the NME on the mayoral contest. Ken, said the punk legend, was "a living nightmare of repression. He'll find the way of killing the fun in anything -- he's misery personified."

And then: "Who would you like to have dinner with? It would be Boris ... Boris would fit happily in any of my surroundings."

The spikey spokesman of workingclass Finsbury Park, Gunners-supporting north London, the front man of the Sex Pistols and an unrivalled bullshit detector channels the Dickensian energy of the Artful Dodger in all he says. And what this most pitilessly demanding punk-politico sees in Boris, even after the corrosions of a term of office, is an authenticity and an ability to get on with everyone. To my mind, the Lydon Endorsement trumped all else: focus groups, polls and hustings victories. That's when I was finally convinced that, for Ken, there really was (as Mr Lydon once sang) No Future.

Still, not a single vote has yet been cast, the polls remain volatile and the vagaries of the second preference electoral system mean that a surprise outcome is still conceivable. Whatever the result, this mayoral election will have huge implications for the national political scene. This is partly because we are still collectively adolescent as a polity in our attitude to localism and devolution, still much too inclined to interpret such races as merely proxy battles for the national contest. In this case, too, the timing has made a pressure cooker of the London election: the past ghastly six weeks for the Government have unsettled many assumptions about the prospects of David Cameron and Ed Miliband, the likely fate of their respective parties in the next general election, and the very contours of national politics.

Yesterday, Charles Clarke, the former Home Secretary, added his name to the list of senior Labour figures distancing themselves from Ken, proclaiming the former Mayor to be "a figure of the past". By adopting him in September 2010 as its candidate for the 2012 race, Labour pre-emptively undermined the leader it elected the very next day and -- specifically -- his promise of a "new generation". The lesson Ed Miliband's team has already learned is that a much more subtle and craftier approach to candidate selection is needed, especially if a significant number of the 11 cities holding referenda tomorrow vote to introduce directly elected mayors. …