There have been plenty of dirtier elections than this one. Despite the Boris-Ken lift incident, and arguments over their tax arrangements, this mayoral race was squeaky clean by comparison to some previous election contests.
The Bush family could teach us a thing or two about negative campaigning. Mudslinging has featured prominently in lots of Presidential races. In 1988, George H W Bush destroyed Democratic candidate Mike Dukakis, by unfairly blaming him for the escape of convicted murderer Willie Horton. And in 2004, George W Bush used the Swift Boat veterans to question his rival John Kerry’s military service in Vietnam.
Yes, mayoral campaigns are more personal than traditional Parliamentary elections, but that’s partly the whole point. Personality can matter more than policy when we’re voting for a single individual. But Boris and Ken are usually quite civil and good-humoured to each other. They both have colourful personal histories, and yet these have remained largely private throughout this and the 2008 campaigns.
Why? A striking legacy of the expenses scandal is the importance of trust. More than ever, voters are looking to support candidates with integrity. Mudslinging could just backfire on the candidate throwing it, so we tend to steer clear.
This article first appeared in Public Affairs News - May 2012