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.

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Why isn't Labour putting forward Corbynite candidates?

Despite his successes as a candidate, the organisational victories have gone the way of Corbyn's opponents. 

The contest changes, but the result remains the same: Jeremy Corbyn’s preferred candidate defeated in a parliamentary selection. Afzhal Khan is Labour’s candidate in the Manchester Gorton by-election and the overwhelming favourite to be the seat’s next MP.

Although Khan, an MEP, was one of  the minority of Labour’s European MPs to dissent from a letter from the European parliamentary Labour party calling for Jeremy Corbyn to go in the summer of 2016, he backed Andy Burnham and Tom Watson in 2015, and it is widely believed, fairly or unfairly, that Khan had, as one local activist put it, “the brains to know which way the wind was blowing” rather than being a pukka Corbynite.

For the leader’s office, it was a double defeat;  their preferred candidate, Sam Wheeler, was kept off the longlist, when the party’s Corbynsceptics allied with the party’s BAME leadership to draw up an all ethnic minority shortlist, and Yasmine Dar, their back-up option, was narrowly defeated by Khan among members in Manchester Gorton.

But even when the leadership has got its preferred candidate to the contest, they have been defeated. That even happened in Copeland, where the shortlist was drawn up by Corbynites and designed to advantage Rachel Holliday, the leader’s office preferred candidate.

Why does the Labour left keep losing? Supporters combination of bad luck and bad decisions for the defeat.

In Oldham West, where Michael Meacher, a committed supporter of Jeremy Corbyn’s, was succeeded by Jim McMahon, who voted for Liz Kendall, McMahon was seen to be so far ahead that they had no credible chance of stopping him. Rosena Allin-Khan was a near-perfect candidate to hold the seat of Tooting: a doctor at the local hospital, the seat’s largest employer, with links to both the Polish and Pakistani communities that make up the seat’s biggest minority blocs.  Gillian Troughton, who won the Copeland selection, is a respected local councillor.

But the leadership has also made bad decisions, some claim.  The failure to get a candidate in Manchester Gorton was particularly egregious, as one trade unionist puts it: “We all knew that Gerald was not going to make it [until 2020], they had a local boy with good connections to the trade unions, that contest should have been theirs for the taking”. Instead, they lost control of the selection panel because Jeremy Corbyn missed an NEC meeting – the NEC is hung at present as the Corbynsceptics sacrificed their majority of one to retain the chair – and with it their best chance of taking the seat.

Others close to the leadership point out that for the first year of Corbyn’s leadership, the leader’s office was more preoccupied with the struggle for survival than it was with getting more of its people in. Decisions in by-elections were taken on the hop and often in a way that led to problems later down the line. It made sense to keep Mo Azam, from the party’s left, off the shortlist in Oldham West when Labour MPs were worried for their own seats and about the Ukip effect if Labour selected a minority candidate. But that enraged the party’s minority politicians and led directly to the all-ethnic-minority shortlist in Manchester Gorton.

They also point out that the party's councillor base, from where many candidates are drawn, is still largely Corbynsceptic, though they hope that this will change in the next round of local government selections. (Councillors must go through a reselection process at every election.)

But the biggest shift has very little to do with the Labour leadership. The big victories for the Labour left in internal battles under Ed Miliband were the result of Unite and the GMB working together. Now they are, for various reasons, at odds and the GMB has proven significantly better at working shortlists and campaigning for its members to become MPs.  That helps Corbynsceptics. “The reason why so many of the unions supported Jeremy the first time,” one senior Corbynite argues, “Is they wanted to move the Labour party a little bit to the left. They didn’t want a socialist transformation of the Labour party. And actually if you look at the people getting selected they are not Corbynites, but they are not Blairites either, and that’s what the unions wanted.”

Regardless of why, it means that, two years into Corbyn’s leadership, the Labour left finds itself smaller in parliament than it was at the beginning.  

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