Earlier this week Labour’s Mayoral hopefuls gathered to discuss their housing policies, with all candidates believing we need more homes and more direct action from City Hall to deliver them we could have been in for a dull evening.
But Tessa Jowell’s now traditional citing of the Olympics as evidence that she can deliver for London quickly brought her under attack from most of her rivals and many of the audience over what they see as her failure to ensure that 50% of all homes built on the Olympic park were affordable.
Jowell’s response was disappointingly weak – rather than point out that Boris had scrapped City Hall’s 50% affordable target for all projects in London and that he’d claimed such a target on the Olympic park would create a “ghetto”, she fell back on arguing that one specific section of the development had met that goal under her stewardship.
It was a missed opportunity.
She’d started the night by warning that what mattered was winning the election so you could implement your values and then failed to highlight how ceding City Hall in 2008 and Downing Street in 2010 had contributed to the state of affairs her detractors now sought to blame her for.
Her rivals for the nomination scored a good victory but they might want to be careful about its lasting impact.
Jowell’s levels of support among councillors and council leaders and her endorsement by Labour’s regional chair Len Duvall means we can probably say that she is, at the very least, joint favourite to emerge as the party’s candidate in September.
So knocking the Olympic legacy and Jowell’s part in securing it is a line of attack which could easily rebound.
For years senior London Tories have wondered how they can attack Jowell’s record – the Olympics was always thought to be off-limits thanks to Boris and David Cameron’s repeated claims that they were an unquestionable success.
A member of Johnson’s team once described the Games to me as a “cultural Falklands” – an unexpected success which rallied a nation in its doldrums and challenged the world’s perceptions of what we were capable of.
But Labour are in danger of chipping away at that perception and allow the games to become a stick with which Zac Goldsmith or Stephen Greenhalgh can beat Jowell between September and next May.
Not only are they playing down the Games’ legacy for ordinary Londoners by arguing that too few homes were built, but their shadow culture secretary Chris Bryant recently introduced the word “fiasco” into the Olympic lexicon.
By proving himself unable to resist the cheapest line of attack when there’s a headline in it for him, Bryant allowed Boris to agree that at least one part of the Olympic project was a balls up and then swiftly point the finger of blame at the Labour mayor and Government in power when the project was first drawn up.
In return for an afternoon in the news and a few more votes in the party’s mayoral selection, Labour’s politicians are writing their opponents’ attacks lines and risk eroding the chances of a second City Hall win.