In the 24 hours since her elevation was confirmed, some have sought to portray her acceptance as ‘proof’ that she knows she can’t win Labour’s nomination battle, or as a sign that she’s less certain than the polls about her prospects against Zac Goldsmith.
Others have suggested to me her acceptance is a distraction and at least one of her backers is feeling put out having previously and vocally criticised Boris for seeking to combine the tail end of his mayoralty with a Parliamentary career.
Legally of course there’s no bar to combining the role of Mayor with that MP or Peer.
And, as I’ve said a number of times since Boris first confirmed he was quitting City Hall for the Commons, if the Prime Minister can combine the role of running the entire country with that of being a constituency MP, there’s no sensible objection to be made to a Mayor combining his or her executive function with representing a London parliamentary constituency.
Despite what Boris’s critics claimed ahead of his Commons re-entry, London is no worse governed than it was before May. It’s probably not much better, but it’s certainly no worse.
Given that Peers, however important their role is, have no constituency business to take care of, the pressures and time demands on a Mayor who was also a Lord or Baroness would be less than those of a Mayor who was also an MP or those of an MP who is also a minister.
So the talk of part-time mayors is as daft as it was when Labour first deployed it against Boris and sensible people should continue to pay it no heed.
But, there are some important considerations and valid concerns to be had about Dame Tessa (or Lady Jowell? or plain Tessa?) combining the two roles which have had less of an airing.
Mayor of London is a role which would require Jowell to work alongside ministers from a different political party to deliver for Londoners. That task would be immeasurably easier if, like Ken and Boris before her, she was able to largely transcend the usual knockabout of party politics.
Ignoring that she was only Mayor as a result of the second preference votes of people who don’t usually support Labour, and then allowing herself to be bused in to the Lords to win a series of symbolic but ultimately meaningless votes against Government policy would be folly.
It might temporarily further the cause of the Labour party, but it would sour her relationship with ministers and so make it much harder to win the arguments that Londoners would need their Mayor to prevail in.
You cannot campaign for the Mayoralty as the great unifier, as Jowell has, only to then engage in petty partisan scraps because it helps your party leader or embarrasses the Government front bench.
So in every Lords debate and vote in which she took part, Labour’s patronage would always have to come second to her wider elected mandate and her responsibilities to Londoners.
That may make life uncomfortable for her on some occasions, but it is the only way of combining the two roles while retaining public support and confidence.
Yesterday Jowell put out the following statement:
I thought long and hard about accepting this honour given my ambition to run London. I’m accepting this, to speak up for London in the House of Lords. Our city is watching on whilst Scotland, Wales and even Manchester are enjoying more and more powers to shape their own destiny.
London must have more powers to tackle the housing crisis, fight the inequality that is dividing our city, and London should also have more freedom to decide how we invest the money we raise in our city and the power to set a higher minimum wage.
Every City should have a champion in the House of Lords, ideally an elected Mayor. I want to be London’s champion. I’ll use this position for one purpose and one purpose alone – to fight for Londoners.”
That suggests she understands much of the above, but Londoners would be rightly dismayed if, subject to two sets of electoral fortunes smiling on her, those seemingly reassuring words buckled in the face of party demands and partisan advantage.