Who will be London's next mayor?

Possible contenders, the one to watch, and the joker in the pack.

The next London mayoral election will be the first in which neither Ken Livingstone nor Boris Johnson is a candidate. In his concession speech in 2012, Livingstone ruefully said that he would not fight another campaign, while Johnson now rarely disguises his intention to stand for parliament in 2015. With the departure of these hegemons, the capital’s other big beasts are considering their chances of taking City Hall in 2016.

It is on the Labour side that activity is greatest. The end of the Tories’ Boris bonus means that the election is the opposition’s to lose. Through speeches, blogs and op-eds, the contenders are making themselves known. There is David Lammy, the Tottenham MP, who “thought hard” about whether to stand in 2012 before opting to chair Livingstone’s campaign and has already published an attack dossier on Johnson’s record (“Boris Isn’t Working”). Then there is Tessa Jowell, lauded for her role in bringing the Olympics to London and well liked across the party despite her defiantly Blairite politics.

On the left, there is Diane Abbott, liberated to speak freely after her recent sacking from the front bench and framing herself as a Livingstone-style maverick. “Londoners don’t want a party hack. Big cities never want a party hack,” she said recently.

The field spans out to include Andrew Adonis, the cerebral former transport secretary, whose passion for infrastructure and grands projets prompted him to declare in 2011 that he “would love to be mayor”. 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.

If there is a candidate to watch, it is Sadiq Khan. The shadow justice secretary is one of Labour’s most articulate and energetic performers and was recently named shadow minister for London by Ed Miliband (whose leadership campaign he managed in 2010). Borrowing the metaphor used by Johnson to describe his prime ministerial ambitions, he recently 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 until after 2015, to avoid candidates’ bids being viewed as a judgement on the party’s election chances.

The 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?”

What will a London mayoral election without Boris or Ken look like? Image: Getty

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 November 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Are cities getting too big?

Photo: Getty
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The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.