For years I’ve been saying that Labour were wrong to assume victory in next year’s mayoral contest was assured.
It’s not been a popular message but finally it seems that grown-up politicians in the party are coming to realise that they’ll have to work for a win.
Alan Johnson, a man many would anoint leader in a heartbeat, recently said: “In London next year Labour has a chance to win again – but it will be tough”.
In an article for ProgressOnline, Kober identifies Zac Goldsmith as “the greatest potential obstacle to Labour winning City Hall.”
I agree with Kober that, if he stands, Goldsmith will present Labour with a formidable challenge.
Liberal Democrats who’ve campaigned against him in Richmond Park speak in admiring tones of his ability to conjure up armies of youthful, energetic and enthusiastic campaigners, many of whom show no sign of being Tories.
Less flatteringly they speak of a rougher, ‘street fighter’ side of him that’s masked by the easy-going and charming manner for which he’s more widely known.
But the biggest obstacle between Labour and a second City Hall win isn’t Goldsmith but their decision to delay selecting a mayoral candidate until after last month’s general election.
Naming a candidate in July, as was originally the plan, would have left the victor with 10 months to draw up their manifesto and build support across London and across parties. A tight deadline but just about doable with the right candidate.
Ed Miliband’s decision to quit after leading the party to one of its worst results ever caused the mayoral selection to be delayed until September 12th so that the process can run alongside the leadership contest.
As a result, whoever finally emerges as the City Hall runner will be immediately overshadowed by increasing speculation and anticipation about the results of the leadership race which will be announced 2 weeks later.
And they’ll have just seven and half months to finish their manifesto and get out and fight for victory in an election that could help set the narrative around the party for years to come.
This is a potentially disastrous position for Labour to have put itself in and it stems from the still commonly held view that London is their city.
But is it?
It’s true that the party controls the most councils, has more Assembly members than any other party and more MPs but is its support at the ballot box actually so great that it can be stated with certainty that this is Labour territory?
Here’s the party’s London vote share for the most recent Mayoral, Assembly, general, council and Euro elections. (I’ve excluded the 2000 mayoral result because of the one-off effect of Livingstone’s independent candidacy):
2000 London Assembly List: 30.3
2000 London Assembly Constituency: 31.6
2001 General Election: 47.3
2002 Local Election: 28
2004 Mayoral Election: 1st Round 36.8
2004 London Assembly List: 24.43
2004 London Assembly Constituency: 24.7
2004 European Election: 24.8
2005 General Election: 38.9
2006 Local Election: 28
2008 Mayoral Election 1st Round: 37
2008 London Assembly List: 27.12
2008 London Assembly Constituency: 28.0
2009 European Election: 21.3
2010 Local Election: 32.6
2010 General Election: 36.6
2012 Mayoral Election 1st Round: 40.3
2012 London Assembly List: 41.1
2012 London Assembly Constituency: 42.3
2014 European Election: 36.67
2014 Local Election: 37.4
2015 General Election: 43.7
These are decent figures but they’re hardly proof of London being some impenetrable fortress which is safe from assault. If it were, Boris wouldn’t have spent two happy terms at City Hall.
This is normally the point when someone tries to blame the loss of City Hall solely on Ken Livingstone, yet in 2004 and 2008 – when Boris beat him – he won a higher share of the vote than Labour did in the Assembly elections held on the same day.
In fact of the 22 elections listed above, Labour only outpolled Livingstone’s highest vote share of 40.3% four times and at last month’s general election, when the Liberal Democrat vote collapsed, only added 3.4% to his best ever tally.
Even if they replicated last month’s vote share next year – and there are plenty of reasons why they wont – they still need another 7.4% just to creep over the Mayoral finishing line.
Seven months isn’t a lot of time to galvanise a supporter base still bruised from a defeat few expected, win over the Lib Dem voter base you’ve spent 5 years attacking, and convince Green supporters you won’t build roads all over south east London.
As some of the party’s big hitters now accept, winning under these conditions will be hard work.
Defeat, if it comes, won’t be the fault of the Evening Standard, but of those who decided the mayoralty was some after-thought to be settled when it was known who had a seat around a cabinet table and who still needed a job.