Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Manchester in 2012. Photograph: Getty Images.
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London mayoral race: Sadiq Khan "to focus all his effort" on general election

Shadow London minister will not follow David Lammy in launching mayoral bid before the election. 

David Lammy's decision to formally launch his bid to become London mayor (as tipped in my column last month), making him the first Labour MP to do so, has prompted commentators to ask whether his likely rivals, Sadiq Khan, Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott, will follow his lead. 

In response, a source close to Khan told me: 

Sadiq is working his socks off to get Ed Miliband elected Prime Minister. He will continue to focus all his effort on winning 12 extra seats in London as shadow London minister and articulating Labour's radical alternative to the government's prison crisis as shadow justice secretary. 

As shadow London minister, Khan of course enjoys the advantage of being able to woo the Labour selectorate and to win credit for what will likely be a strong general election peformance (Labour's local election results in the capital were its best since 1998).

Last year, after withdrawing from a Progress debate on the future of London, which featured Lammy, Jowell, Andrew Adonis and Abbott (making it the first hustings in all but name), he told me: "I was told it was going to be a forum to discuss ideas about London and it was quite clear to me that it was actually turned into a beauty parade. I’ve got no interest in being involved in a beauty parade, or playing ego politics. It’s about me making sure that I do the job I’ve been given as shadow minister for London with the seriousness it deserves. I’m a member of team Labour."

Jowell, who has led in the early opinion polls, made no comment on Lammy's decision. Last month, in response to Boris Johnson's announcement that he would stand for parliament, she said: "There will be much speculation about candidates; Labour, Tory and other parties. I will certainly be taking this time to prepare my potential offer to Londoners, but this is not a time for formal decision or declaration.

"There are many uncertainties between now and 2016, and Labour in London must not be distracted from the crucial task of representing Londoners and winning in those marginal seats which will contribute to a Labour victory next year. A victory which will enormously improve Londoners’ lives by building homes, helping young people get the skills they need to get jobs, supporting London’s growing and divergent economy and acting to tackle the driving causes of the inequalities that continue to scar our city." 

Having previously warned that Labour "must not be distracted" from the general election, the former Olympics minister will now have to decide whether to revise her position in response to Lammy. Abbott, who has also publicly expressed interest in the role, has not yet replied to a request for comment. 

How she and others play it may well depend on how much momentum Lammy gains from his early entry. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why is Labour surging in Wales?

A new poll suggests Labour will not be going gently into that good night. 

Well where did that come from? The first two Welsh opinion polls of the general election campaign had given the Conservatives all-time high levels of support, and suggested that they were on course for an historic breakthrough in Wales. For Labour, in its strongest of all heartlands where it has won every general election from 1922 onwards, this year had looked like a desperate rear-guard action to defend as much of what they held as possible.

But today’s new Welsh Political Barometer poll has shaken things up a bit. It shows Labour support up nine percentage points in a fortnight, to 44 percent. The Conservatives are down seven points, to 34 per cent. Having been apparently on course for major losses, the new poll suggests that Labour may even be able to make ground in Wales: on a uniform swing these figures would project Labour to regain the Gower seat they narrowly lost two years ago.

There has been a clear trend towards Labour in the Britain-wide polls in recent days, while the upwards spike in Conservative support at the start of the campaign has also eroded. Nonetheless, the turnaround in fortunes in Wales appears particularly dramatic. After we had begun to consider the prospect of a genuinely historic election, this latest reading of the public mood suggests something much more in line with the last century of Welsh electoral politics.

What has happened to change things so dramatically? One possibility is always that this is simply an outlier – the "rogue poll" that basic sampling theory suggests will happen every now and then. As us psephologists are often required to say, "it’s just one poll". It may also be, as has been suggested by former party pollster James Morris, that Labour gains across Britain are more apparent than real: a function of a rise in the propensity of Labour supporters to respond to polls.

But if we assume that the direction of change shown by this poll is correct, even if the exact magnitude may not be, what might lie behind this resurgence in Labour’s fortunes in Wales?

One factor may simply be Rhodri Morgan. Sampling for the poll started on Thursday last week – less than a day after the announcement of the death of the much-loved former First Minister. Much of Welsh media coverage of politics in the days since has, understandably, focused on sympathetic accounts of Mr Morgan’s record and legacy. It would hardly be surprising if that had had some positive impact on the poll ratings of Rhodri Morgan’s party – which, we should note, are up significantly in this new poll not only for the general election but also in voting intentions for the Welsh Assembly. If this has played a role, such a sympathy factor is likely to be short-lived: by polling day, people’s minds will probably have refocussed on the electoral choice ahead of them.

But it could also be that Labour’s campaign in Wales is working. While Labour have been making modest ground across Britain, in Wales there has been a determined effort by the party to run a separate campaign from that of the UK-wide party, under the "Welsh Labour" brand that carried them to victory in last year’s devolved election and this year’s local council contests. Today saw the launch of the Welsh Labour manifesto. Unlike two years ago, when the party’s Welsh manifesto was only a modestly Welshed-up version of the UK-wide document, the 2017 Welsh Labour manifesto is a completely separate document. At the launch, First Minister Carwyn Jones – who, despite not being a candidate in this election is fronting the Welsh Labour campaign – did not even mention Jeremy Corbyn.

Carwyn Jones also represented Labour at last week’s ITV-Wales debate – in contrast to 2015, when Labour’s spokesperson was then Shadow Welsh Secretary Owen Smith. Jones gave an effective performance, being probably the best performer alongside Plaid Cymru’s Leanne Wood. In fact, Wood was also a participant in the peculiar, May-less and Corbyn-less, ITV debate in Manchester last Thursday, where she again performed capably. But her party have as yet been wholly unable to turn this public platform into support. The new Welsh poll shows Plaid Cymru down to merely nine percent. Nor are there any signs yet that the election campaign is helping the Liberal Democrats - their six percent support in the new Welsh poll puts them, almost unbelievably, at an even lower level than they secured in the disastrous election of two year ago.

This is only one poll. And the more general narrowing of the polls across Britain will likely lead to further intensification, by the Conservatives and their supporters in the press, of the idea of the election as a choice between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn as potential Prime Ministers. Even in Wales, this contrast does not play well for Labour. But parties do not dominate the politics of a nation for nearly a century, as Labour has done in Wales, just by accident. Under a strong Conservative challenge they certainly are, but Welsh Labour is not about to go gently into that good night.

Roger Scully is Professor of Political Science in the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University.

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