Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Sadiq Khan tops new Labour London mayoral poll - why he's the man to beat

The shadow London minister has several key advantages over his rivals.

Who will Labour's London mayoral candidate be? Some commentators have marked Diane Abbott down as the surprise favourite after she topped a YouGov poll of Labour supporters this week, but a better bet is Sadiq Khan. The shadow justice secretary and shadow London minister, who is almost certain to stand, has finished first in a new poll of LabourList readers (sample size: 772).

Since the candidate will be predominantly selected by Labour activits (with others paying a small fee to take part in the closed primary), the survey is likely a better guide to the result than the YouGov poll. It puts Khan on 22 per cent, with Tessa Jowell on 17 per cent, Abbott on 15 per cent, David Lammy on 7 per cent and Andrew Adonis (who most suspect is eyeing the post of transport commissioner) on 5 per cent.

As shadow London minister, Khan has the in-built advantage of being able to regularly meet activists and CLPs and was rightly praised for Labour's remarkable performance in London in the local elections (its best result since 1998). He has also stood out as one of the loudest champions in the shadow cabinet of radical action to reduce inequality, including the revival of collective bargaining. His recent Fabian pamphlet Our London was the first to float the idea of a cap on rent increases (since embraced by the party at large) and a ban on letting agent fees. As Ed Miliband's former campaign manager, Khan will also be the unofficial candidate of the Milibandites. Should the Labour leader become prime minister next May, he will be in an even stronger position to win the nomination.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496