Margaret Hodge won't be Labour's mayoral candidate. Photo: Getty
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What does Margaret Hodge bowing out mean for Labour's mayoral election race?

The Public Accounts Committee chair and MP for Barking has ruled herself out as a potential candidate for the mayoral election.

Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking, has bowed out of the race to become London mayor. Hodge – whose interrogations of squirming chief executives as chair of the Public Accounts Committee have found her fame beyond the committee corridor – was hitherto expected to try for the Labour mayoral candidacy.

When asked by the Evening Standard who she will endorse, the London MP reportedly signalled that she is still deciding between mayoral hopefuls David Lammy and Sadiq Khan, but was firm in her assertion that she would like to see a mayor from an ethnic minority background:

“I actually think the time is right for us to have a non-white mayor . . . London is a diverse city but we are poor at representation. But let’s wait and see what the candidates say they can do for London.”

By making this point, Hodge is ruling out the prospect of backing Tessa Jowell, who (along with the lesser-known transport expert Christian Wolmar) is the only non-BME Labour figure in the running for the candidacy.

Although some previously expected Hodge to back down and give Jowell her endorsement, her call for a BME candidate won’t necessarily be a hindrance to Jowell’s campaign. As one Labour aide tells me: “As Hodge is now out of the race, surely this will help Tessa. They sort of occupy the same space – and not just because they’re both seen as nice old ladies! Margaret is a little to the right of the party these days, as is Tessa.”

Indeed, a collapse in support for Hodge shown by polling in December last year gave Jowell a boost in turn.

In terms of which candidate will receive Hodge’s backing, she has yet to say, if she says at all. One Labour source close to Khan, the current frontrunner in the Labour mayoral race, admits, “it could well be David Lammy – I think she’s closest to him politically”.

Hodge gave her verdict on each of the mayoral hopefuls to the Standard:

  • She told the paper that Lammy is “a really important symbol” of modern London and has “an important back-story to tell”.
  • She called Khan “an assertive fighter” who also has “a good story to tell”.
  • She described Diane Abbott as a “feisty woman, but I think she is the most distant from my own politics”.
  • She praised Jowell as having been, “incredibly successful at delivering the Olympics”, and said she would be a “good consensual advocate for London”.
  • When asked about Wolmar, she replied mischievously: “Who?”

Hodge’s motivation for standing down could be that she privately believes Ed Miliband will not win the election. That way she would be able to remain in her current job as chair of the Public Accounts Committee (a position that must be filled by an opposition politician), a post she clearly adores and has long been her political priority.

One Labour adviser to another London MP says it’s possible Hodge doesn’t see a Labour victory ahead and tells me, “I’ve always wondered about whether she really wanted it [to be mayor] given she has found fame and fortune as chair of the PAC.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
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Theresa May is paying the price for mismanaging Boris Johnson

The Foreign Secretary's bruised ego may end up destroying Theresa May. 

And to think that Theresa May scheduled her big speech for this Friday to make sure that Conservative party conference wouldn’t be dominated by the matter of Brexit. Now, thanks to Boris Johnson, it won’t just be her conference, but Labour’s, which is overshadowed by Brexit in general and Tory in-fighting in particular. (One imagines that the Labour leadership will find a way to cope somehow.)

May is paying the price for mismanaging Johnson during her period of political hegemony after she became leader. After he was betrayed by Michael Gove and lacking any particular faction in the parliamentary party, she brought him back from the brink of political death by making him Foreign Secretary, but also used her strength and his weakness to shrink his empire.

The Foreign Office had its responsibility for negotiating Brexit hived off to the newly-created Department for Exiting the European Union (Dexeu) and for navigating post-Brexit trade deals to the Department of International Trade. Johnson was given control of one of the great offices of state, but with no responsibility at all for the greatest foreign policy challenge since the Second World War.

Adding to his discomfort, the new Foreign Secretary was regularly the subject of jokes from the Prime Minister and cabinet colleagues. May likened him to a dog that had to be put down. Philip Hammond quipped about him during his joke-fuelled 2017 Budget. All of which gave Johnson’s allies the impression that Johnson-hunting was a licensed sport as far as Downing Street was concerned. He was then shut out of the election campaign and has continued to be a marginalised figure even as the disappointing election result forced May to involve the wider cabinet in policymaking.

His sense of exclusion from the discussions around May’s Florence speech only added to his sense of isolation. May forgot that if you aren’t going to kill, don’t wound: now, thanks to her lost majority, she can’t afford to put any of the Brexiteers out in the cold, and Johnson is once again where he wants to be: centre-stage. 

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