London mayoral race: a contest of eccentrics
Outspoken conservative Boris Johnson leads 'Red' Ken Livingstone in the polls.
Boris Johnson leaps vigorously onto a low wall and raises his hands.
"Do you like buses?" he bellows. It's an odd question, even for a London mayoral candidate. This is one of the city's most affluent suburbs. The lightly perfumed voters in attendance look more likely to travel by chauffeur-driven Bentley.
"Isn't it great to see so many police here," he tries next, though the lunchtime throng appears no more menacing than a convention of retired gardeners. A low murmur ensues.
Gradually though, Mr. Johnson presses the conservative buttons, launching into a florid rant about scrapping committees, planting trees, punishing bad teenagers, and stopping people drinking alcohol on the subway "in a threatening manner." "I want to make the public space safer," he culminates in that posh English accent of a bygone era.
It's a message that appears to have broad appeal in a city that goes to the polls in two weeks. Despite having made London less congested, more harmonious, and perhaps even more successful during his eight-year tenure, Labour incumbent Ken Livingstone is trailing Johnson in a race pundits say is more about personality than policy.
Mr. Livingstone is forceful too, but his hobby (newts), allegations of cronyism at City Hall, and questions about his private life have not helped.