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?

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There's nothing Luddite about banning zero-hours contracts

The TUC general secretary responds to the Taylor Review. 

Unions have been criticised over the past week for our lukewarm response to the Taylor Review. According to the report’s author we were wrong to expect “quick fixes”, when “gradual change” is the order of the day. “Why aren’t you celebrating the new ‘flexibility’ the gig economy has unleashed?” others have complained.

Our response to these arguments is clear. Unions are not Luddites, and we recognise that the world of work is changing. But to understand these changes, we need to recognise that we’ve seen shifts in the balance of power in the workplace that go well beyond the replacement of a paper schedule with an app.

Years of attacks on trade unions have reduced workers’ bargaining power. This is key to understanding today’s world of work. Economic theory says that the near full employment rates should enable workers to ask for higher pay – but we’re still in the middle of the longest pay squeeze for 150 years.

And while fears of mass unemployment didn’t materialise after the economic crisis, we saw working people increasingly forced to accept jobs with less security, be it zero-hours contracts, agency work, or low-paid self-employment.

The key test for us is not whether new laws respond to new technology. It’s whether they harness it to make the world of work better, and give working people the confidence they need to negotiate better rights.

Don’t get me wrong. Matthew Taylor’s review is not without merit. We support his call for the abolishment of the Swedish Derogation – a loophole that has allowed employers to get away with paying agency workers less, even when they are doing the same job as their permanent colleagues.

Guaranteeing all workers the right to sick pay would make a real difference, as would asking employers to pay a higher rate for non-contracted hours. Payment for when shifts are cancelled at the last minute, as is now increasingly the case in the United States, was a key ask in our submission to the review.

But where the report falls short is not taking power seriously. 

The proposed new "dependent contractor status" carries real risks of downgrading people’s ability to receive a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. Here new technology isn’t creating new risks – it’s exacerbating old ones that we have fought to eradicate.

It’s no surprise that we are nervous about the return of "piece rates" or payment for tasks completed, rather than hours worked. Our experience of these has been in sectors like contract cleaning and hotels, where they’re used to set unreasonable targets, and drive down pay. Forgive us for being sceptical about Uber’s record of following the letter of the law.

Taylor’s proposals on zero-hours contracts also miss the point. Those on zero hours contracts – working in low paid sectors like hospitality, caring, and retail - are dependent on their boss for the hours they need to pay their bills. A "right to request" guaranteed hours from an exploitative boss is no right at all for many workers. Those in insecure jobs are in constant fear of having their hours cut if they speak up at work. Will the "right to request" really change this?

Tilting the balance of power back towards workers is what the trade union movement exists for. But it’s also vital to delivering the better productivity and growth Britain so sorely needs.

There is plenty of evidence from across the UK and the wider world that workplaces with good terms and conditions, pay and worker voice are more productive. That’s why the OECD (hardly a left-wing mouth piece) has called for a new debate about how collective bargaining can deliver more equality, more inclusion and better jobs all round.

We know as a union movement that we have to up our game. And part of that thinking must include how trade unions can take advantage of new technologies to organise workers.

We are ready for this challenge. Our role isn’t to stop changes in technology. It’s to make sure technology is used to make working people’s lives better, and to make sure any gains are fairly shared.

Frances O'Grady is the General Secretary of the TUC.