Over the past few months I’ve been trying to piece together the talk within Labour about the selection of a 2016 Mayoral candidate and what I’ve heard has been pretty depressing for someone who expects parties to take a £16bn a year regional government seriously.
While 2016 might seem a long way off, I think there are some clear advantages for Labour in selecting a candidate at least a year ahead of the City Hall race:
1) The chance to use the 2015 General Election to introduce their candidate to the electorate. The most widely talked about potential runners are well known to the Westminster lobby but how many voters outside their constituencies have heard of Sadiq Khan or David Lammy?
2) Allowing Londoners to see that their candidate is so serious about winning City Hall and so committed to London as a whole that they passed on seeking (re)election to Parliament in order to concentrate on the 2016 race.
3) Creating pressure on Boris Johnson to confirm his own future plans. Many expect Boris to seek election to Parliament in or around 2015, but the presence of a Labour candidate ahead of that time would force him to confirm his plans once and for all. It’s not just Londoners and the media who’d want to know Boris’s plans, potential Tory runners would want to know whether it’s worth suiting up for the nomination race.
Yet the talk inside London Labour is of waiting until after the General Election “to see who comes forward” and that “the focus has to be 2015.“
The first of these sounds like code for “seeing who isn’t lucky in 2015” and offering them a bauble to make amends.
Yet, as I’ve said before, Londoners deserve someone who really wants to be their Mayor, not for the role to be treated as a consolation prize for failing to be re-elected to Parliament or missing out on a ministership.
City Hall isn’t an extension of the House of Lords.
The second refrain is often accompanied by the arrogant pronouncement that 2016 is Labour’s turn and an implied suggestion that it doesn’t really matter who runs because the party will be a shoo-in after 8 years of Boris.
Advocates of this position seem to think any old generic manifesto and a few barbs at the (probably) departing Mayor Johnson will see A.N. Other coast into City Hall on the back of Ed Miliband’s charisma.
I think taking Londoners for granted, and falling into the trap of thinking London is their city, could be disastrous for a party which has won just one of the four Mayoral elections held to date.
If London were the inherently Labour city some claim, Ken Livingstone would be marking his first year back at City Hall.
While his detractors claim Ken lost the election entirely due to his own brand of “toxic politics” and that another candidate would have done better, the truth is that serious big hitters chose not to run for Labour’s 2012 nomination because they were afraid they couldn’t beat him.
Is the same cowardice at play here?
Are some hoping to put off the nomination until after the General Election in case, post their selection, Boris suddenly announced he intended to run for a third term? It’s easy to imagine so.
Either way, unless they work hard to show Londoners that the Mayoralty and the capital’s unique issues really matter to them, I think there’s a real danger for Labour that a Tory candidate, shepherded around London by a still popular Boris, will be the one claiming victory in May 2016.