Can fluffy platitudes beat Red Ken in London?

Two major interviews in the broadsheets in successive days and Trevor Phillips, hereinafter called T Phil, has declared his candidacy for the post of mayor of London.

For some time he has been promising, hinting, but now he has taken the plunge.

No one else is currently in the ring with him. It is all shadow-boxing, with not even a punchbag to test T Phil's left hook or right cross. You see nimble footwork, a punch half-thrown, but it's more a shape than the real thing.

In one of the interviews, T Phil set up Ken Livingstone as the "unelected" head of the Greater London Council and the man who at first opposed the "fares fair" policy which he has so often claimed to his credit. Both shots are fairly wide of the mark, tending to lose T Phil points, rather than add to his tally. But it's early days yet.

T Phil must convince the London Labour Party first. I know very little of that organisation nowadays. It certainly is not the organisation that yielded Boateng, Grant, Abbott, Vaz and more than a dozen black councillors in Lambeth. Those were the days when the black communities from Brixton to Toxteth were up in arms and Labour Party debates were spearheaded by groups in which political currents from the Russian Revolution flowed freely.

T Phil was head of the National Union of Students, a position he won as a Left Unity candidate. Later, he worked on Skin and Black on Black, television programmes that sought to articulate the problems facing blacks. That was T Phil's first foray into television, not the London Programme, as some will have it. These programmes came out of London Weekend Television, and T Phil traversed the capital as a black broadcaster and was baptised as such in the stormy waters of New Cross, Brick Lane and elsewhere. So he was formed and shaped in an era that had an edge of radicalism.

The current London Labour Party is a different kettle of fish. It appeared at my doorstep recently as a tired force hardly able to raise its head to contest the Euro elections. A canvasser dropped a paper through my letter box and, before I could start an exchange, she was waving, pointing at her watch, refusing my offer of a chat.

In one of his interviews, T Phil describes the Labour Party as "young, quite happily professional and pretty sophisticated" (the opposite of what it used to be in the days of black sections). That sounds to me like a description of Phillips himself, and the follow-up seems to be that the party is shaped in his likeness, as opposed to Ken Livingstone's. But to me it seems now more a party at odds with itself, having to pick up the pieces after a devastating defeat in the Euro elections.

Londoners have rebelled, and as always they have a scent for a radical agenda, a dust-in-your-face style, a campaign war, as opposed to one that is led, and muted, by spin-doctors. And T Phil had better get that mood right or he will be mere fodder for Lion Ken. I do not need to interview T Phil in order to give some journalistic insight into the political character. I have known the lad for close to 25 years now. He appears a polite softie and not so fiercely ambitious.

He is currently positioning himself with a general programme, fluffy and inoffensive. He promises, for example, to re-invent the high street. But the truth is that shopping malls have drawn the shopper off the high street and into mutliplexes, and not even the most determined and well-intentioned Luddite can reverse that process in London or elsewhere.

T Phil knows all that. His campaign programme consists of platitudes behind which he is prepared to negotiate in the fix and mix of politics. That is T Phil's strong point. At some juncture, a deal will be brokered in which he will either be king (I rather doubt it) or play a major role in the running of London. My bet is that he will head the new police authority. And after that? Who knows?

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