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Jowell is the candidate to beat in Labour's London mayoral race

The frontrunner announces she will stand down as an MP at the next election just days before debating Adonis, Abbott, Khan and Lammy.

Tessa Jowell speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton last year. Photograph: Getty Images.

Tessa Jowell is leaving parliament but, one suspects, not politics. Her announcement that she will stand down as an MP at the next election is the biggest hint yet that she is planning a bid to become Labour's London mayoral candidate in 2016. 

When questioned on the subject at the Labour conference, Jowell replied: "I am thinking about it and I am sure others [Sadiq Khan] on this panel are thinking about it." She will have been further encouraged by a YouGov poll published last month showing that she is the frontrunner for the post. Asked who would be "the best Labour candidate for London Mayor in 2016?", 21% said Eddie Izzard (who has said that he will not stand until 2020), with Jowell in second place on 17%. Diane Abbott was third (9%), followed by David Lammy (7%), Andrew Adonis (6%) and Sadiq Khan (5%), all of whom have publicly expressed interest in the job. (Although the one officially declared candidate, transport expert Christian Wolmar, was not included.) 

The race will heat up next week (as Adam Bienkov notes) when on Monday evening Progress hosts what is effectively the first hustings (disguised under the title "How can we win a mandate from London in 2015?") with Jowell, Khan, Lammy, Adonis and Abbott all on the panel. Other possible contenders include Oona King, Livingstone’s defeated rival from the last selection contest, and Margaret Hodge, the redoubtable chair of the public accounts committee. 

Jowell is undoubtedly the candidate to beat. She is lauded for her role in bringing the Olympics to London, well liked across the party despite her Blairite politics and, as I've noted, ahead in the polls. But keep an eye on Sadiq Khan. The shadow justice secretary is one of Labour’s most articulate and energetic performers (as he demonstrated again on Question Time last night) and was recently named shadow minister for London, a post that will allow to regularly meet and engage with the Labour activists and supporters who will determine the outcome. Borrowing the metaphor used by Boris Johnson to describe his prime ministerial ambitions, he has remarked: "If I was at the edge of the box and the ball came free and I thought I had the best chance of shooting and scoring, then I might do it. But let’s see if the ball comes free."

Whether "the ball comes free" may yet rest on the result of the general election. "Sadiq might feel duty-bound to serve as justice secretary if Labour wins," one party figure told me, noting that he had held the brief since Miliband’s first reshuffle. For this reason, Labour is likely to delay the selection contest (which will be a closed primary) until after 2015, to avoid candidates’ bids being viewed as a judgement on the party’s election chances. 
 
The (literal) joker in the pack is Eddie Izzard. The stand-up comedian will not run this time (despite leading in the polls) but has pledged to do so in 2020, suggesting that he either expects a Labour defeat or plans to challenge an incumbent. The announcement prompted one Labour MP to refer me to "the curse of Izzard": "He campaigned for the euro and for AV. What could possibly go wrong?"