Tottenham MP David Lammy may launch his bid to become mayor of London at Labour's conference next month. Photograph: Getty Images.
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As Boris heads for Westminster, the truce between Labour’s mayoral rivals is about to end

With Johnson departing, City Hall is the opposition's for the taking. But which contender will move first?

The age of Boris and Ken is at an end. For the first time since the post of mayor of London was created in 2000, neither of these titans will be on the ballot paper in May 2016. Following Johnson’s deceptively humble announcement that he will “try to find somewhere to stand in 2015” (his search, one suspects, will not be in vain), the path is clear for a new figure to secure one of the most coveted jobs in British politics.

The mayor of London combines control of a £17bn budget with executive powers over housing, planning and transport – and the largest personal mandate of any European politician bar the president of France. Whichever party wins the general election, further responsibilities are likely to be awarded in recognition of the capital’s increasingly distinct status.

It is on the Labour side that interest in the role is greatest. After the party achieved its best result in London since 1998 in the May local elections, the contest is the opposition’s to lose. There is officially only one declared candidate – the transport buff Christian Wolmar – but Tessa Jowell, Sadiq Khan and David Lammy are regarded as certain to stand, with Diane Abbott, Andrew Adonis and Margaret Hodge also considering it.

To date, they have respected an unwritten agreement to postpone their bids until after the general election (when Labour’s closed primary will be held). But this truce could be about to end. Lammy, who turned down a shadow ministerial post in 2010, is considering launching his campaign at the Labour conference next month. The Tottenham MP has recruited Labour’s Tower Hamlets election co-ordinator, Matthew Bethell, and Teddy Goff, Barack Obama’s head of digital strategy in 2012. He has also undergone a pre-campaign makeover. “He’s ditched the glasses, he’s wearing sharper suits and he’s lost some weight,” notes one observer.

Not everyone is impressed, however. “Labour members in London will find it difficult to forgive time, effort and money being spent on mayoral campaigns rather than in the target seats we need to win in London,” a party source told me.

Lammy’s desire to gain momentum is in part recognition that he is not the front-runner. That status is held by Jowell. The former culture secretary leads in the opinion polls and is admired across party lines for her stewardship of the Olympics bid. As  a devoted ally of Tony Blair (once declaring that she would “jump in front of a bus to save him”), she will benefit from the political and financial muscle of the New Labour establishment.

If Jowell’s past is a virtue, it is also a liability. She voted for and continues to defend policies such as the Iraq war, top-up fees and 90-day detention and her association with Blair is regarded by party figures as “toxic”. Among a Labour “selectorate” that lies to the left of the national party, all of this will count against her. Jowell would also face personal scrutiny over her husband, David Mills, who was prosecuted in Italy in 2006 for allegedly accepting a bribe from Silvio Berlusconi, and with whom she reunited after six years apart.

For these reasons, some regard the true favourite as Sadiq Khan. As shadow London minister, he is assiduously building the networks and relationships required to win the nomination. On the night of Labour’s local elections triumph in the capital, he darted from count to count to congratulate party candidates on their victories. Like Ed Miliband, whose leadership campaign he managed, the Tooting MP would run to the left of the favourite and seek to win trade union endorsements through a radical manifesto.

Among those likely to support Khan’s candidacy is Doreen Lawrence, the mother of Stephen, who was recently made a Labour peer. The pair first met through anti-racism campaigns and sat together on a Home Office committee on stop-and-search during his time as a human rights lawyer. Lawrence would be a natural choice for the post of deputy mayor for equality, a new role recently proposed by Khan.

Yet in a city with a penchant for mavericks, Khan’s close association with the Labour leadership may hinder him. “Cities don’t vote for party hacks,” one MP said. An early declaration by Lammy would make it far harder for Khan to maintain his studied ambiguity over his intentions.

Of the remaining contenders, Hodge is said to fear attacks over her “loony left” past (she was recently forced to apologise for failing to investigate allegations of paedophilia as leader of Islington Council) and is being wooed by Jowell, while Adonis is eyeing the post of transport commissioner. Abbott is the closest to a Livingstone-style insurgent, but the question, one Labour MP says, is: “Can she run anything?”

Among the Conservatives, Sebastian Coe, Karren Brady and Zac Goldsmith are most frequently cited as potential candidates. Yet to varying degrees all three have already ruled themselves out. In the absence of a political superstar in the model of Johnson (who remains by far the country’s most popular politician), the party may be forced to settle for a second-tier candidate such as the deputy mayor Kit Malthouse or the London Assembly member James Cleverly.

For some Tories, their unpromising position is testimony to Johnson’s failure to move the centre ground during his time in office. George Osborne, in particular, seems to regard the mayor not as a serious politician but as a crude populist whose one abiding principle is self-advancement. Yet, for others, the struggle the party will face to retain City Hall is merely confirmation of Johnson’s unrivalled lustre.

The mayor is what the Conservative Party has traditionally loved most of all: a winner. “There is a great and glorious future for Britain,” he declared this month. For Britain, read Boris. 

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Now listen to George discussing Boris’s parliamentary ambitions with Helen Lewis and Anoosh Chakelian on the NS podcast:

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 06 August 2014 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Gaza

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In Bangladesh, bat in hand, I list all the things that could go wrong

Not everyone gets to play cricket in Bangladesh but I still managed to notch up more worries than runs.

Back from Bangladesh. I picked up a stomach bug while I was out there, and possibly a heart bug, about which I’d rather not go into any detail at the moment, but both will get better as time passes. Meanwhile, as I lie in my bed of pain (the nasty stuff has stopped but I’m still getting the occasional painful ache in the guts), I have my memories.

I must say it was very odd to be treated like royalty while I was out there. (For those who missed it: I was invited to participate in the Dhaka Literary Festival, and saw no reason to refuse, especially after being bought an exceptionally good dinner by the main organiser.) The democrat in me feels shifty even when I’m addressed as “sir” in shops in the UK, so when, one day, on entering the campus at the Bangla Academy, I was actually saluted by a military policeman, I was somewhat taken aback. I wonder if I will see that look in the soldier’s eyes until my dying day: alert, respectful, possibly a bit unhinged. Anyone saluting me must be a little off their rocker, but then how was he to know what a cock-up of a human being I am?

Still, it was extraordinarily pleasant. The highlight was, of course, the cricket match, in which I was invited to play for a scratch team of five from the Authors’ XI, plus two extra lads from the local college, or perhaps affiliated to the local team, the Khulna Titans, whose boss presented us all with caps. I’m wearing mine even as I write these words. I find it soothing.

At the time, though, I was feeling most unsoothed. I found myself going through a list of worries. I should point out that I often start to worry when I start descending the staircase to my own front door – and I was, at this point, roughly 5,000 miles from my front door.

So here are my top ten worries on the way to, during and after the match. I present them in chronological order of beginning to freak me out.

1) Getting shot by terrorists. (That police escort does make one stand out in a crowd, and this lot didn’t seem to be carrying any guns.)

2) Being bitten by one of the dogs lounging around the side of the pitch and having to make the choice between having a series of terribly painful rabies shots, or having rabies.

3) Being stung by a wasp or something on the field and going into anaphylactic shock.

4) Being hit in the mouth by a bouncer and having to go to a hospital to have my teeth crammed back in somehow.

5) Making a huge mow at a full toss not quite as outside the off stump as I’d suspected it was, and missing and being bowled by it.

6) Dropping a catch . . .

6a) . . . and having the ball slam into my mouth etc (see 4).

7) Getting sunstroke/sunburn.

8) Being bitten by a dragonfly, or a swarm of them, while on the pitch. There were loads of dragonflies, for some reason, but they were rather drab. Maybe they weren’t dragonflies, but they flew in the same manner.

9) Throwing the ball back to the keeper in an unmanly or generally disappointing fashion.

10) Being stuck in traffic on the way back for ever and ever, and so missing the event I was scheduled to chair later in the afternoon.

As it is, only number 5) transpired. And maybe a bit of 9). However, I at least made one rather streaky run and so am now able to make the hilarious joke that I have scored on the subcontinent. I marvelled at the state of the pitch: it looked like very fine-textured, pliable tar, or mud baked halfway to being a brick, but soft enough for the spikes on your boot to make a neat hole. Still, it was loads better than the poor neglected pitches at Dogshit Park in Shepherd’s Bush. And I thought of my father, who would have been strangely proud of me for having played in so far-flung a place, and wished that he was still around so he could hear my news.

And so back to London. I was greeted, as I stepped, in my summer linens, from the Heathrow Express at Paddington to the cab rank (I was too tired and sick for public transport), by a blast of chill rain, and shivered as I turned on the cab’s heater. Once again I seem to have fallen in love with a place new to me, and I begin to get indignant at the fact that the weather gets miserable in the UK.

There might be millions of poor people in Bangladesh, but not a single one of them is living in fear that one night they might freeze to death while sleeping out of doors. 

Nicholas Lezard is a literary critic for the Guardian and also writes for the Independent. He writes the Down and Out in London column for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 01 December 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Age of outrage