Last night four of the likely contenders to be the next Labour candidate for Mayor of London took part in an event that we were assured was not in any way a hustings but which spent quite a lot of time talking about Ken, Boris and City Hall anyway.
Diane Abbott, Andrew Adonis, David Lammy, and Tessa Jowell took part in a debate organised by Progress as part of its Campaign for a Labour Majority series of events.
Sadiq Khan was promised but ultimately failed to attend while poor old Christian Wolmar, the only person to actually declare themselves a candidate for the nomination, was relegated to watching from the audience.
Despite the billing and Dame Tessa insisting that “this is not a mayoral debate” despite what “some of the media and people placing bets on Ladbrokes may want to hear today,” her colleagues couldn’t resist trying to turn it into one.
But while they were happy to speculate on what they’d do if they were Mayor – Abbott would cut fares in her first year, Adonis seems keen on building lots of river crossings in East London – the need to be elected didn’t get much of a mention.
In May I warned against a view which I’ve encountered frequently when talking to Labour types who believe it doesn’t really matter who it runs in 2016 because the party will be a shoo-in after 8 years of Boris.
This mentality is neatly demonstrated in a write-up of the event on progressonline.org.uk:
“Barring a sudden round of baby-eating on the part of the eventual candidate, the next election should be a slam-dunk for any of the Labour contenders, which means that the primary could be a more important election for Londoners than the mayoral race itself”
Given that Labour have lost three of the four Mayoral contests this is a worrying mindset but, as Adam has noted elsewhere, it’s one which is widespread within the Labour movement.
Instead of selecting a candidate and letting them spearhead the local and general election campaigns in London, Labour are going to pick a would-be Mayor in late 2015 and then slap their face on the cover of a generic or rushed manifesto.
This is what Simon Cowell does with his X-Factor finalists who all record a version of the winner’s single and then, as the final result show ends, the ‘print’ button is pressed and the CD’s roll off the production line ready to be bought by a gullible public.
But I’m not sure this is the approach Londoners want when it comes to recruiting a Mayoral candidate and I don’t anticipate THEM being too chuffed when they realise Labour has already counted their votes in its favour.