Wednesday, June 09, 2010

King Livingstone

Good to see that Diane Abbott is on the ballot paper for Labour leader after a number of MPs who wont be voting for her backed her candidacy, in order to ensure that the contest was not simply between white men in suits. They may well get a shock if she does well though, but tough.

However, while the hoo ha continues about whether someone left of the center gets to lose the leadership to the Miliband franchise there is a far more important selection taking place inside of Labour. Namely, who is their best shot at winning the London Mayoralty where, in contrast to the national picture, it is the left who are ensconced in the arms of the establishment and the right who are the plucky outsiders raring to put some 'fresh ideas'.

As things stand right now it's going to be a Oona King vs Ken Livingstone stand-off with the winner to be decided at the Labour caber tossing contest late September. I'm interested not just because I'm a nosy beggar, but also because a) I live in London and so I'm curious as to who hopes to rule over me and b) we get a second preference in the Mayorals which, last time round, the Green Party officially recommended using for the Labour candidate.

This was the first time that the Greens had made a public recommendation on the second preference vote (you can see some of the joint leaflets in this campaign pic from 2008) and, while I know from first hand experience it made some sort of difference, it's not something that we gave away easily.

If Labour select Ken I'm confident we'll repeat that happy experience, but if they select some bomb loving politician-for-the-sake-of-it then I doubt London Greens would be shy about publicly critiquing the lack of progressive credentials in Labour candidate and we may well have a less supportive stance.

The two hopefuls are like chalk and cheese in many ways. King spent her time in Parliament as an ultra-loyal speak your policy machine while Livingstone has been a thorn in Labour's side for decades.

King has always been eminently ignorable and defeatable while Livingstone is a formidable customer, who walks the walk and is able to defeat real opponents both internal and external. He took on all comers, including Labour's Frank Dobson, to win the Mayoralty in the first place. His medal cabinet is unique in British politics, King on the other hand is "fresh" and essentially untested.

Labour MP David Lammy is backing Ken saying that "Above all, we need a political heavyweight. In 2012 the euphoria of the Olympics may well be tempered by the harsh realities of everyday life."

GMB union leader Paul Kenny is backing Ken saying “I am totally confident that with Ken elected as London Mayor in 2012 our transport, social housing and employment needs will once again receive the attention that London demands.”

Alternatively Oona says of her candidacy that "We can’t kid ourselves that we can beat Boris Johnson by using the same rhetoric or policy platform that failed last time. We need fresh new ideas. We need an honest conversation with London based on our values and aspirations – that’s what this site and my candidacy is about."

It's nice to hear she's going to single-handedly overturn Labour's entire policy platform, but her website gives little indication of in what way she intends to this. Does she mean she's going to reverse policy on transport and the congestion charge? Will she issue all Brazilians with bullet proof vests on the tube? What?

You see, for me, this selling point of freshness (and its related diversity) just doesn't work. Oona's politics aren't fresh at all. In the context of British politics it's always been Ken who has brought forward strong, new ideas and he continues to explore new ways of concretely improving London. Fresh and empty are not synonymous with each other.

Londoners like outsiders and, in general, I think they like the way Ken clearly loves the city. He's given his heart and soul to it for forty years or more. Where's Oona been in the five years she was out of Parliament? She just doesn't have the political grit required for the job as far as I can see and I suspect most people will see her candidacy as fuelled by personal ambition in a way quite different from Ken's ambitions that have always been tied to taking the hard road in politics.

The final argument against Ken is that he lost the last election because Londoners were 'sick off him' and that he was 'rejected' by London, but the facts tell a very different story. Year on year more Londoners voted for Ken at each successive election, despite the fact that 2008 saw Labour's vote slump across the rest of the country - something that was astounding feat for a Labour candidate.

Ken didn't lose the election Boris Johnson won it, taking Steven Norris' 28% in 2004 and turning it into a whopping 42% of the vote. Anyone who's going to overturn that level of support, particularly when Boris has not horrified most voters in the way he has us lefty politicos has got to have a proven track record of winning hard battles. Oona does not have that.

It's not that the Greens agree with Ken all the time, far from it, but he's a serious politician who we can work with on friendly terms and with whom we genuinely do share a great deal of political ground. The same cannot be said for King whose track record of coalition building does not extend beyond the Iraq invasion.

It's good that there's a choice and quite rightly I don't get a vote in Labour's selection process, but I will get a say in whether the Greens recommend a second preference for Labour in 2012 and that rests entirely on who they pick as their candidate.

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