A few days after Sadiq Khan was selected as Labour’s Mayoral candidate and Jeremy Corbyn overtook Labour’s centrists to win one of the biggest personal mandates ever seen in British politics, I wrote:
“I and other London journalists have heard from a host of Labour figures at all levels in the party identifying a Khan loss next year as the most justifiable way of tipping Corbyn out of the leader’s office.”
Some of Sadiq’s backers thought this was just idle gossip. Others, perhaps taking a cue from their man who once accused me of inventing his mayoral ambitions, claimed I’d fabricated the whole thing.
But the report was true and the noises of discontent which fuelled it sufficiently widespread that they even reached the ears of a journalist as unimportant and disconnected from Westminster as I am.
Others, including Kevin Maguire, have also heard from Labour MPs who “would be prepared to sacrifice Sadiq Khan at next May’s London mayoral contest if it would trigger a regime change.”
And defeat in London would, according to former Gordon Brown advisor Damian McBride, see Corbyn “gone within a week” – a prediction which surely provides strong motivation for those who’d prefer anyone else to be in charge of the party to be busy when Sadiq calls for campaigners and fundraising support?
Let there be no doubt – a third consecutive Mayoral defeat would be a huge set-back for Labour and a calamity from which Corbyn would probably be unable to recover.
A substantial number of people in Labour see London as their city and believe Boris Johnson’s presence at City Hall to be a temporary aberration which will soon correct itself.
Many in the party talk about Labour having won the General Election in London and see a win next May as the most likely, and in the case of some activists inevitable, outcome.
So the sight of Boris Johnson and David Cameron cheering a victorious Zac Goldsmith would be as unexpected as it would unwelcome and lead to a new round of squabbles as each faction blamed the other.
It’s hard to see, even with the distance between regional and Westminster politics, how Corbyn would ultimately hang on as MPs became increasingly concerned about their own electoral prospects under his continued leadership.
The smart people at the top of Labour know this and will devote every resource the party has to bolster Khan’s chances, including mobilising the enthusiastic and energetic army of Corbyn backers.
Their efforts could give him a key advantage in the street by street canvassing and campaigning needed to get voters out and easily counteract the reticence or sudden unavailability of anti-Corbyn plotters and help sweep Khan into power.
So while Labour’s increasingly public squabbles certainly make it harder for Sadiq to emerge as London’s next mayor, it’s not an impossibility. He’s already defied expectations and could do so again.
But it’s foolish to pretend that there aren’t people within the party who think its longterm future is best served by his defeat.