Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Winning a mandate for London

When is a hustings not a hustings? Well, when the only declared candidate for the office in question – the Labour nomination for mayor of London – hasn’t been invited, and the matter at hand is an entirely different election.

That said, while Progress’ latest event in the Campaign for a Labour Majority series wasn’t quite a hustings, it wasn’t quite not a hustings either. Sadiq Khan was indisposed and Christian Wolmar was in the audience, but, otherwise, the whole field was there – Diane Abbott, Andrew Adonis, David Lammy, and Tessa Jowell.

In a refreshing change from the last mayoral race – a battle between a man who couldn’t beat Boris and a woman who couldn’t beat Ken – none of the candidates looked obviously flawed. Carlos Bilardo described his Argentina side as a ‘Diego Maradona and 10 others’ – the Conservatives after Boris would struggle to find the others, let alone a genuine Maradona. 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.

The demands of the primary, however, mean that events like these, usually so crucial, feel more like a pre-season friendly than a knockout tie; a chance to try out new lines and for the potential candidates to get a feel for it all before the real work of winning the primary gets under way. So who did well, and who needs to head back to boot camp?

Some of the panellists seemed unsure about whether or not to treat the event as an opportunity for a serious discussion or to go on the hunt for votes. Diane Abbott had no such worries, and delivered what was effectively a campaign address. She had the best night: she was punchy, populist and right on immigration, told two particularly good jokes, and even managed to carry off referring to herself in the third person. Of all the panellists, she probably best embodies London’s sense of itself – diverse, from humble origins, on the left but not particularly fond of the Labour party, and now largely middle class – and, at this early stage, she looks like the best candidate.

But I’m not sure she’d be a particularly good mayor. On the big policy questions, she had very little to say; I can easily see her strolling into city hall only to stumble immediately after.

The reverse problem was afflicting Andrew Adonis, who sounded like the best mayor but still has some way to go before he looks like the best candidate. He had a forensic grasp of what ails London and was the master of every question that was thrown his way, but he doesn’t yet look fully comfortable now he is on the bridge and not in the engine room. Yes, he had the best one-liner of the evening and his grasp of the detail was a pleasing contrast to Boris, but he still needs to sound sharper and less professorial.

In fact, a measure of David Lammy could do Andrew Adonis a world of good, who could, in turn, learn a lot from Andrew Adonis. Not every answer has to end with an anecdote, and a David Lammy, with a little more of Andrew Adonis’ policy heft, or an Andrew Adonis with some of David Lammy’s campaigning touch, would make an excellent candidate.

Tessa Jowell seemed to take the event the most seriously, sounding the least like she was mulling a bid and offering the best answers to the question we were ostensibly there to discuss; that is, how Labour wins a majority in 2015. She was the best panellist, but the worst contender, although I’m not sure if she’s trying to be one – yet.

So who won the day? If it had been an exam question, Tessa would have got full marks, because she kept to the topic. If it had been an election, Diane would have won, and if it had been a day at city hall, Andrew would have been the one left smiling, while David sounded like a tough and prepared politician who should be considered the frontrunner – for now.  As for me, I was left rooting for Christian Wolmar: I never get invited to speak at Progress events either.

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Stephen Bush is a contributing editor to Progress, writes a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb

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Stephen Bush

is a contributing editor to Progress, formerly wrote a weekly column for Progress, the Tuesday review, and tweets @stephenkb

4 comments

  • All very interesting. But why is no-one pressing the case of some of Labour’s existing LB Mayors who have a track record of winning election and delivering policies, amd seem to have less baggage than the afore-mentioned? Will someone tell me why Jules Pipe, with his Hackney track record, wouldn’t be a better candidate than all the above?

  • At the moment the only possible person who could do it is David Lammy. Christian Wolmar is a good guy and sound on transport issues but an independent isn’t going to do it. Dianne Abbott is guaranteed to lose as she has a track record of sticking her foot in her mouth and being a total hypocrite on education. The right will tear her apart on her remarks about white people dividing and ruling black.

    Of course it all depends who the Tories put up. At the moment Labour is looking shaky. Jules Pipe has actually run something and would be good but it is early days yet. Anyone but Livingstone though.

  • Why not consider appointing two(2) LABOUR Mayors on the same ticket ? 2 London Mayors would see to it that double the amount of work gets done. Its a Big City, with Worldwide ‘Clout’ – two heads are better than one and you get two for the price of one as the salaries and perks are enough for 10 normal households to live on anyway. Diane & Ken, or other twin-combo’s/duos. *The USA ‘Primaries’ are a good format to weed out the weeds, yet very ‘winner-takes-all’ and too much gratuitous blood-letting takes place. Dictators are okay for the Greeks and Plato, but this is England and the United Kingdom — Ta-Ta Alex, good Luck Scotland the Brave.

  • Roy Steele. Dianne and Ken! You are joking. Livingstone has lost twice and was seen the first time he lost as a washed up has been who approved the throwing away of millions of pounds of Londoners money on non existent black groups. I live in Spain and as you know there are lots of expats down here many of whom are hard core Labour supporters but hated Livingstone with a passion.

    Anyone who can alienate their core base to the extent that he did is on a suicide mission. Those two would be the shortest suicide note in history. Abbott is, it seems, convinced that the reason African Caribbean young men do badly at school is because of racist teachers. The fact that it is only this group and not Asians, Chinese, Vietnamese or Eastern Europeans seems to have escaped her attention.

    The Tories are defeatable in London with the right candidate, not either of those two losers and not together or separately.

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