Sebastian Payne

Personalities, backstories and the threat of Zac dominate Labour’s London mayoral race

Personalities, backstories and the threat of Zac dominate Labour's London mayoral race
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The Evening Standard hosted a hustings for Labour's mayoral candidacy last night and it appears the contest is being fought more over clichés than anything else. The six candidates opened by extolling their love of London: Diane Abbott (Stoke Newington MP) claimed London has suffered from ‘too much social cleansing’. Tessa Jowell (former Olympics minister the bookies' favourite to win) said ‘the engine of our city must be constantly recharged’. Sadiq Khan (MP for Tooting) argued ‘London needs a modern Mayor for a modern city’.

David Lammy (MP for Tottenham) said ‘we need a mayor with a serious plan’. Gareth Thomas (MP for Harrow West) acknowledged that his campaign ‘isn’t the best financed, but as you can see, I’m the best looking candidate’. Christian Wolmar, transport columnist, the only non-MP in the race and arguably the most interesting candidate, said ‘instead of talking about my parentage, I’m going to talk about what I want to do.’

On policy, there was little to differentiate between them. The ongoing Tube strike was a hot topic — nearly all of the audience members backed 24-hour Tubes — but the six candidates vigorously defended the right to strike while carefully side-stepped fully defending the current ongoing action. Heathrow expansion was a dividing line: some of the candidates like Diane Abott and Sadiq Khan expressed total opposition to a third runway, while Tessa Jowell said ‘I am keen to back a third runway at Heathrow, subject to the very careful conditions Howard Davies has set out’. If Zac Goldsmith is selected as the Tory candidate, the 2016 mayoral election could become a referendum on Heathrow expansion and this may pose a problem for Jowell.

When asked to summaries their pitches to the party, Wolmar described himself as ‘the guy with the ideas’ and pleaded with the crowd ‘don’t vote for them, vote for the real thing’. Gareth Thomas claimed to be the ‘boldest’ candidate, despite the lack of any 'bold' solutions. David Lammy, who showed plenty of passion throughout, said he was the only candidate to focus on housing with a ‘plan to raise £10 billion to get building' and said he 'can't wait' to take on Goldsmith noting 'he’s the boy from the nice county estate, I’m the boy from the council estate'. 

Sadiq Khan told the crowd ‘we need a candidate who can win and win for a purpose, we can’t be business as usual as a party or a city’. Tessa Jowell warned that ‘London faces great risks' and the party needs to carefully consider which candidate 'can give effect to the change London needs,' both in terms of transport capacity and tacking inequality.

And Diane Abbott concluded ‘Labour needs a candidate who, even when their own parties try to get them to do something, will stand up for London'. She pointed out that London has had two successful, if very different, mayors to date and both were known across the capital by their forenames alone. Based on these hustings, ‘Tessa’ and ‘Sadiq' are still the most credible candidates to continue that tradition — but all present seemed to realise 'Zac' may be a real threat to their aspirations.

Odds on who will be Labour's candidate for 2016 mayoral election (via Ladbrokes): Tessa Jowell 10/11, Sadiq Khan 11/8, David Lammy 10/1, Diane Abbott 25/1 and Gareth Thomas 66/1.