Thursday’s General Election result was a disaster for Labour, but in London the party’s members must speedily come to terms with their defeat and turn their minds to selecting a Mayoral contender.
The decision to delay selecting until after the GE – defended on the grounds that selecting 12 or 18 months ago would prove a distraction from putting Ed Miliband into Downing Street – means would-be runners now only have 16 days to get their applications in and that members must make their choice while also contemplating the future direction of their party and who gets to lead it.
If the party picks wisely on July 29th it’ll be able to offset defeat this year with victory next and secure itself a second devolved platform – the other being the Welsh government – from which to start reconnecting with voters.
The task here is to pick a candidate with appeal far beyond the party’s own voter base in order to reach the 50.01% threshold needed to secure the Mayoralty.
Some may be tempted to see the winning of seven extra London seats on Thursday as a sign that passing this threshold and taking back City Hall will be easy.
I think they’d be wrong.
Labour was undoubtably more successful in London than it was nationally but it still failed to take all of its target seats despite activists endlessly tweeting about the great receptions they’d had on the doorstep.
Either the campaigners were knocking on the wrong doors or someone was fibbing.
Labour ended Thursday night with 43.7% of the London vote – that’s seriously impressive compared to their 30.4% national share – but still a long way short of winning City Hall.
Even if the party started the Mayoral race with the backing of every single voter they picked up this week – doubtful – they’d still need to pick up another 7% from people who’d prefer another party to govern the capital.
So winning means picking a Mayoral runner who isn’t just popular inside Labour, but who also has real cross-party appeal and leans naturally to the kind of ‘big tent’ approach which led both Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson to victory.
Do that and Labour gets not just control over the capital’s government and its £17bn budget, but a fantastic opportunity to show voters across the UK how it performs in office.
London’s Liberal Democrats, almost obliterated on Thursday, also have a chance to use next year’s election to propel themselves onto the path to recovery.
Of course it’s highly unlikely they can win the mayoralty, but the campaign guarantees them both a place in the debates and media coverage and so affords them the chance to move on from the coalition.
In 2008 party members made the mistake – which staggeringly they repeated in 2012 – of picking voter repellent Brian Paddick as their mayoral candidate.
Over the two elections, lucklustre campaigning by the now ennobled Paddick managed to reduce their London Assembly representation from 5 seats to just 2. In 2012 both Paddick and the Assembly group took fewer votes than the Greens.
So LibDem members cannot afford to pick so poorly when it comes to selecting a 2016 candidate.
With a number of big name MPs now casting around for something to do it might be tempting to let one have a stab at the mayoralty but starting a fightback by reminding people of what dislike about you isn’t a sensible approach.
Londoners are fair-minded people, if the party offers up someone who is both untarnished by the coalition experiment and, crucially, willing to publicly distance themselves from it, they’ll get a fair hearing and have a chance of increasing their number of AMs.
That’s not as big a platform as the Mayoralty but it does bring committee chairmanships, media coverage and valuable contacts in a raft of local and special causes campaign groups, all of whom will appreciate having a receptive ear at City Hall.