Ken Livingstone’s selection as Labour’s 2012 Mayoral candidate was hardly a surprise – London’s press pack could hardly muster up even the pretence of a pretence that the outcome would be anything other than a comfortable win for the former Mayor.
I think that’s a real shame for Londoners.
At the start of Labour’s contest I wrote both that Livingstone needed to offer “more than a 2008 re-tread” and that opponent Oona King needed to give him a sufficient challenge that “he’s had to earn his place on the ballot not merely coasted through on the strength of past glories.”
To be honest I don’t think either of those challenges has been met, Livingstone’s rhetoric is still largely focussed around familiar ideas like reintroducing the congestion charge Western Extension and reviving plans for emissions based road charging.
There have been some new ideas but even by a generous assessment the selection campaign has hardly been awash with eye-catching initiatives. If he’s to have any serious chance of beating Boris, Ken is going to have to look and sound like a fresh option for London. Quite how he does that while contesting the fourth of four Mayoral elections is unclear.
Part of the reason for this uncertainty is Oona’s failure to ever really look or sound like a winner.
She is very personable and when members of her team say she routinely out-performed expectations whenever put before the selectorate I can readily believe them. But the truth is she often failed to look on top of her brief and that seriously affected how the wider media saw – and more importantly, reported – her campaign.
Today’s announcement merely formalised an outcome all had expected and predicted – even the share of the vote matched the long predicted 70/30 split in favour of Ken.
But despite failing to set the London political scene alight, Oona was undeniably bold to take on a rival utterly determined to reclaim his old job while others simply hid in the shadows and briefed about how awful it’d be if Livingstone were to be the face of London Labour in 2012.
For that bravery alone she deserves the compliments and praise lavished on her at today’s Labour event. In her concession speech Oona made the point that no politician should be frightened of democracy and by running she ensured Livingstone faced a challenge for the role of Labour candidate for the first time since, if memory serves, 2000.
While there are many aspects of her policies I disagree with, Oona was 100% right about one thing: whoever the next Mayor is, he’ll need to be held to account by serious, capable politicians on behalf of Londoners.
One of the beauties of the London Assembly is that there are no opposition benches. All Assembly Members have an equal part in holding the Mayor to account regardless of the Mayor’s political affiliation – both Ken and Boris have been savagely tackled on issue by AMs from within their own party.
Whoever the next Mayor is, Oona could be part of that.
When Adam and I individually suggested she run for the Assembly if (when) she lost to Livingstone, Oona made much noise about how much she enjoyed her job at Channel 4.
Having so correctly identified the need to hold the capital’s top decision maker to account, how can she credibly walk away from that challenge only to pop up in four years time in the hope of becoming Labour’s 2016 Mayoral hopeful?
By serving on the Assembly Oona would give herself a chance to learn so much more about London’s government, thus maximising her chances of seeing off expected Mayoral-hopeful David Lammy next time around, and provide a valuable service to Londoners.
Some have suggested she may see the Assembly as comedown after Parliament. I don’t know if that’s the case but anyone thinking AMs are some lesser breed of politicians is wrong.
City Hall is full of hardworking, serious and heavyweight individuals who routinely put party differences aside to ensure the interests of all Londoners are adequately catered for.
There’s no reason for Oona not to be one of them.