Tessa Jowell addresses Labour Party conference. Photo:Getty Images
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The next mayoral election is closer than you think

Labour haven't won in London for eleven years. Without the right candidate, we'll lose again.

Labour has won just one out of the four elections for Mayor of London, and we’d be making a huge mistake if we think our candidate is guaranteed victory next year.   Boris won by taking Labour votes, Ken won by taking Tory votes.  Our candidate next year must have appeal beyond Labour and take votes directly from the Conservatives.  

There’s an assumption that Labour did well in London in an otherwise catastrophic General Election earlier this month.   Things aren’t quite that simple.  We may have done better in the capital than other parts of the country – but there was no overwhelming Labour victory in London either. 

The real story in London was the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.  Their vote went down by 14.4 points.  Labour was the main beneficiary with our vote share rising 7.1 points compared to 2010.  But we took almost no votes from the Conservatives.  In fact, there’s evidence from Survation that while many left-leaning Lib Dems switched to Labour, this masks the fact that many Labour voters switched to the Tories.  What’s worrying for next year’s mayoral contest is how the Tory vote in London has increased at every general election since 2001 and is now at its highest for nearly two decades. 

At this year’s General Election most of London’s safe Labour seats saw a below-average turnout while safe Tory seats saw turnout rise above average.  This follows the trend in both 2008 and 2012 where Boris Johnson mobilised the outer London Tory vote.  In a London-wide mayoral vote that matters.

In May, Labour finished 300,000 votes ahead of the Tories in London, but that lead vanishes if a Tory mayoral candidate can attract UKIP’s 300,000 voters.   While many former Lib Dem voters switched to Labour, there were 272,000 who stuck with the Lib Dems after they’d spent five years in coalition with the Tories.  There’s a good chance these Lib Dems would support a Tory mayoral candidate over Labour.  In a mayoral election where second preferences count, you can see how the Tories have a path back to City Hall next year if Labour can’t appeal beyond our own voters. 

Labour’s disastrous General Election result nationally was based on a misguided core vote strategy, aiming to mobilise the 35 per cent of the electorate assumed to be Labour rather than winning support from other parties as well.  In fact, we didn’t even manage that – Labour’s share of the vote was just 30 per cent nationally.  The same core vote strategy that failed across Britain will fail in London too. 

Sadiq Khan who ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign, Diane Abbott and David Lammy each have less than 20 per cent support according to the latest Evening Standard opinion poll on potential Labour candidates.  Tessa Jowell scores over 40 per cent.  Jowell, with her record of setting up Sure Start and bringing the Olympics to London, does even better among non-Labour voters than with Labour voters although she’s ahead in both groups.   Tessa has the kind of broad electoral appeal that’s necessary to win in London. 

Labour must shake off the complacent assumption that we are destined to win the mayoral election next year.  This year’s general election, even in London, show’s that’s not the case.  If Labour picks the wrong candidate, we’ll lose. 


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The vitriol aimed at Hillary Clinton shows the fragility of women's half-won freedom

The more I understand about the way the world treats women, the more I feel the terror of it coming for me.

I’m worried about my age. I’m 36. There’s a line between my eyebrows that’s been making itself known for about the last six years. Every time I see a picture of myself, I automatically seek out the crease. One nick of Botox could probably get rid of it. Has my skin lost its smoothness and glow?

My bathroom shelf has gone from “busy” to “cluttered” lately with things designed to plump, purify and resurface. It’s all very pleasant, but there’s something desperate I know at the bottom of it: I don’t want to look my age.

You might think that being a feminist would help when it comes to doing battle with the beauty myth, but I don’t know if it has. The more I understand about the way the world treats women – and especially older women – the more I feel the terror of it coming for me. Look at the reaction to Hillary Clinton’s book. Too soon. Can’t she go quietly. Why won’t she own her mistakes.

Well Bernie Sanders put a book out the week after the presidential election – an election Clinton has said Sanders did not fully back her in –  and no one said “too soon” about that. (Side note: when it comes to not owning mistakes, Sanders’s Our Revolution deserves a category all to itself, being as how the entire thing was written under the erroneous impression that Clinton, not Trump, would be president.) Al Gore parlayed his loss into a ceaseless tour of activism with An Inconvenient Truth, and everyone seems fine with that. John McCain – Christ, everyone loves John McCain now.

But Hillary? Something about Hillary just makes people want to tell her to STFU. As Mrs Merton might have asked: “What is it that repulses you so much about the first female candidate for US president?” Too emotional, too robotic, too radical, too conservative, too feminist, too patriarchal – Hillary has been called all these things, and all it really means is she’s too female.

How many women can dance on the head of pin? None, that’s the point: give them a millimetre of space to stand in and shake your head sadly as one by one they fall off. Oh dear. Not this woman. Maybe the next one.

It’s in that last bit that that confidence racket being worked on women really tells: maybe the next one. And maybe the next one could be you! If you do everything right, condemn all the mistakes of the women before you (and condemn the women themselves too), then maybe you’ll be the one standing tippy-toe on the miniscule territory that women are permitted. I’m angry with the men who engage in Clinton-bashing. With the women, it’s something else. Sadness. Pity, maybe. You think they’ll let it be you. You think you’ve found the Right Kind of Feminism. But you haven’t and you never will, because it doesn’t exist.

Still, who wouldn’t want to be the Right Kind of Feminist when there are so many ready lessons on what happens to the Wrong Kind of Feminist. The wrong kind of feminist, now, is the kind of feminist who thinks men have no right to lease women by the fuck (the “sex worker exclusionary radical feminist”, or SWERF) or the kind of feminist who thinks gender is a repressive social construct (rechristened the “trans exclusionary radical feminist”, or TERF).

Hillary Clinton, who has said that prostitution is “demeaning to women” – because it absolutely is demeaning to treat sexual access to women as a tradeable commodity – got attacked from the left as a SWERF. Her pre-election promises suggest that she would probably have continued the Obama administration’s sloppy reinterpretation of sex discrimination protections as gender identity protections, so not a TERF. Even so, one of the charges against her from those who considered her not radical enough was that she was a “rich, white, cis lady.” Linger over that. Savour its absurdity. Because what it means is: I won’t be excited about a woman presidential candidate who was born female.

This year was the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, and of the Abortion Act. One of these was met with seasons of celebratory programming; one, barely mentioned at all. (I took part in a radio documentary about “men’s emotional experiences of abortion”, where I made the apparently radical point that abortion is actually something that principally affects women.) No surprise that the landmark benefiting women was the one that got ignored. Because women don’t get to have history.

That urge to shuffle women off the stage – troublesome women, complicated women, brilliant women – means that female achievements are wiped of all significance as soon as they’re made. The second wave was “problematic”, so better not to expose yourself to Dworkin, Raymond, Lorde, Millett, the Combahee River Collective, Firestone or de Beauvoir (except for that one line that everyone misquotes as if it means that sex is of no significance). Call them SWERFs and TERFs and leave the books unread. Hillary Clinton “wasn’t perfect”, so don’t listen to anything she has to say based on her vast and unique experience of government and politics: just deride, deride, deride.

Maybe, if you’re a woman, you’ll be able to deride her hard enough to show you deserve what she didn’t. But you’ll still have feminine obsolescence yawning in your future. Even if you can’t admit it – because, as Katrine Marçal has pointed out in Who Cooked Adam Smith’s Dinner?, our entire economy is predicated on discounting women’s work – you’ll need the politics of women who analysed and understood their situation as women. You’ll still be a woman, like the women who came before us, to whom we owe the impossible debt of our half-won freedom.

In the summer of 2016, a radio interviewer asked me whether women should be grateful to Clinton. At the time, I said no: we should be respectful, but what I wanted was a future where women could take their place in the world for granted. What nonsense. We should be laying down armfuls of flowers for our foremothers every day.

Sarah Ditum is a journalist who writes regularly for the Guardian, New Statesman and others. Her website is here.