Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton in 2013. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Sadiq Khan: Labour London mayoral candidates must not be "distracted" from general election

The shadow London minister warns that the party "will not forgive" those focused on the contest to come. 

The first split of the general election campaign has arrived, with Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Diane Abbott going to war over the mansion tax. Murphy has pledged to use Scotland's share of the revenue to fund 1,000 new nurses north of the border, leading Abbott to attack him on The World At One for believing "he can buy Scottish votes with money expropriated from London" (the mirror image of the nationalist claim that England is "stealing" North Sea oil). For his part, Murphy declared: "I don't have to consult Diane Abbott ... I am leader of the Scottish Labour Party, not Diane."

Abbott isn't the only one of Labour's London mayoral candidates to have denounced Murphy. David Lammy said: "This has been my concern about the Mansion Tax from the start: that up to 90 per cent of it will come from the pockets of Londoners while only a tiny proportion will be spent on London’s public services. It cannot be right, when one in three Londoners is living in poverty, that the money raised from London taxpayers continues to be siphoned off to other regions." And Tessa Jowell said: "London’s needs are great - we cannot simply act as the cash cow for the rest of the UK."

Among those who will be angered by the public divisions is Sadiq Khan, Labour's shadow justice secretary and shadow London minister. When I interviewed him yesterday for the NS, he warned the party's mayoral candidates not to be "distracted" from fighting the general election. He told me: 

Until the general election’s done and dusted, all our energies have to be focused on it. London is best served by a Labour government; anybody who’s distracted by campaigning, by doing anything for themselves as an individual is letting down London. Not letting down the Labour Party, not just letting down themselves, letting down London.

I understand why people have declared they want to be candidates, I understand why people are chasing money for their campaigns, I understand all that. But I tell you what, you’ve got to ask yourself the question 'Is what I’m doing, more or less likely to help secure be a Labour government after 7 May?' If the answer is more likely, all well and good, but if you’re distracted running a campaign, how is that helping the Labour Party?

He added: "The point is this: you could have the best Labour mayor we’ve ever seen, but if you’ve got a Tory government privatising the NHS, not building homes, increasing inequality, keeping the bedroom tax, having young people thrown on the scrapheap, leaving the European Union, Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom, what is the point? All our efforts need to be focused on making sure there’s a Labour government on 7 May, that’s where my energies are focused. Labour Party members, Labour Party supporters, the trade unions, MPs from outside London who are Labour will not forgive those people who want to be the Mayor of London who are distracted before 7 May in campaigning." 

But what of Khan's own intentions? The Tooting MP is regarded by Labour figures as almost certain to stand for the mayoral nomination this summer. He told me: "It’s a privilege just to be asked that question. I can’t tell you what a buzz it gives me as somebody born and raised here, son of immigrants, whose Dad was a bus driver, Mum was a seamstress, I’ve got eight siblings, living on a council estate ... for you to ask me that question is so flattering - and it’s a job I’d love to do one day." 

From that answer it is clear that the general election is unlikely to be Khan's only big battle this year. 

The full version of our interview with Sadiq Khan will appear in this week's NS. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Qusai Al Shidi/Flickr
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I can’t follow Marie Kondo's advice – even an empty Wotsits packet “sparks joy” in me

I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

I have been brooding lately on the Japanese tidying freak Marie Kondo. (I forgot her name so I typed “Japanese tidying freak” into Google, and it was a great help.) The “Japanese” bit is excusable in this context, and explains a bit, as I gather Japan is more on the case with the whole “being tidy” thing than Britain, but still.

Apart from telling us that we need to take an enormous amount of care, to the point where we perform origami when we fold our underpants, which is pretty much where she lost me, she advises us to throw away anything that does not, when you hold it, “spark joy”. Perhaps I have too much joy in my life. I thought I’d give her loopy, OCD theories a go, but when I held up an empty Wotsits bag I was suffused with so many happy memories of the time we’d spent together that I couldn’t bear to throw it away.

After a while I gave up on this because I was getting a bit too happy with all the memories, so then I thought to myself, about her: “This is someone who isn’t getting laid enough,” and then I decided that was a crude and ungallant thought, and besides, who am I to wag the finger? At least if she invites someone to her bedroom no one is going to run screaming from it, as they would if I invited anyone to my boudoir. (Etym: from the French “bouder”, to sulk. How very apt in my case.) Marie Kondo – should bizarre circumstance ever conspire to bring her to the threshold – would run screaming from the Hovel before she’d even alighted the stairs from the front door.

I contemplate my bedroom. As I write, the cleaning lady is in it. To say that I have to spend half an hour cleaning out empty Wotsits packets, and indeed wotnot, before I let her in there should give you some idea of how shameful it has got. And even then I have to pay her to do so.

A girlfriend who used to be referred to often in these pages, though I think the term should be a rather less flippant one than “girlfriend”, managed to get round my natural messiness problem by inventing a game called “keep or chuck”.

She even made up a theme song for it, to the tune from the old Spiderman TV show. She would show me some object, which was not really rubbish, but usually a book (it may not surprise you to learn that it is the piles of books that cause most of the clutter here), and say, “Keep or chuck?” in the manner of a high-speed game show host. At one point I vacillated and so she then pointed at herself and said, “Keep or chuck?” I got the message.

These days the chances of a woman getting into the bedroom are remote. For one thing, you can’t just walk down the street and whistle for one much as one would hail a cab, although my daughter is often baffled by my ability to attract females, and suspects I have some kind of “mind ray”. Well, if I ever did it’s on the blink now, and not only that – right now, I’m not even particularly bothered that it’s on the blink. Because, for another thing, I would frankly not care to inflict myself upon anyone else at the moment.

It was all a bit of a giggle eight years ago, when I was wheeled out of the family home and left to my own devices. Of course, when I say “a bit of a giggle”, I mean “terrifying and miserable”, but I had rather fewer miles on the clock than I do now, and a man can, I think, get away with a little bit more scampish behaviour, and entertain a few more illusions about the future and his own plausibility as a character, when he is squarely in his mid-forties than when he is approaching, at speed, his middle fifties.

Death has rather a lot to do with it, I suppose. I had not actually seen, or touched, a dead body until I saw, and touched, my own father’s a few weeks ago. That’s what turns an abstract into a concrete reality. You finally put that to one side and gird up your loins – and then bloody David Bowie snuffs it, and you find yourself watching the videos for “Blackstar” and “Lazarus” over and over again, and reach the inescapable conclusion that death is not only incredibly unpleasant, it is also remorseless and very much nearer than you think.

And would you, dear reader, want to be involved with anyone who kept thinking along those lines? I mean, even if he learned how to fold his undercrackers into an upright cylinder, like a napkin at a fancy restaurant, before putting them in his drawer? When he doesn’t even have a drawer?

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 05 February 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin's war