David Lammy, MP for Tottenham, and a candidate for Labour's Mayoral nomination. Photo: Getty Images
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Why I'm backing David Lammy to be Labour's candidate for London Mayor

The general election wasn't "good for Labour in London". It's perfectly possible we could lose, unless we pick the right candidate.

There are those who point to Labour’s performance in London as a rare success at the general election. It is an understandable reaction - looking for a glimmer of optimism in the context of a disastrous election result. Unfortunately, though, it is wrong. Yes, the tireless work of our activists meant we gained four new seats and four great new MPs. But we won fewer than half the seats we were expecting to gain from the Tories. Our vote share went up, but only to 44 per cent - well short of the margin needed to win next years’ mayoral election. Since 2005, we have made a net gain of just one seat in London. And, of course, we’ve lost the last two mayoral elections to the Conservatives.

Despite an incredible number of hard-working activists, the messages and policies coming out of party HQ just didn’t resonate with millions of Londoners in seats like Harrow East, Finchley & Golders Green, Croydon Central and Battersea. It is the support of exactly these voters that Labour needs if we are to win the mayoralty next year and deliver the London seats we need if we are to put a Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street in 2020. It is now more important than ever that we choose a mayoral candidate who can broaden our appeal. That candidate needs to be someone who will lead from the front, who has the ability to reach beyond party lines and inspire Londoners from all backgrounds.

That’s why I’ve decided to support David Lammy to be the Labour candidate for mayor. In fact, I’m very pleased to be chairing his campaign. The other candidates all have their strengths, but they represent an old style of politics that has proven to fail in London. The importance of winning in the capital means this isn’t the time for party insiders or tribal and divise figures. We need new leadership in London and David is best placed to provide that.

David gets London. He’s seen every side of the city, from growing up in the shadows of a council estate in Tottenham and working in KFC to help support his single mum, to becoming a barrister and a government minister.

But a good back story isn’t enough – Londoners want to look forward, not back. The next Mayor needs to have a vision for London. With his campaigns and policy proposals, David has made clear that he has that vision. He’s published by far the most bold, sensible and far-reaching proposals on housing of any mayoral candidate. He says what he thinks, stands up to vested interests and is a tireless campaigner on a range of issues, from fighting the spread of betting shops to being the first to call for rent controls to standing up for fathers. He’s got Labour values at his core but is also an independent thinker and an authoritative voice. He speaks with authenticity on the issues that matter to Londoners in a way that no other candidate is able to do.

To win over the swing voters who, because of the voting system, are needed to win the mayoralty, our candidate has to be someone who can reach beyond narrow party lines to deliver the capital for Labour. They need to be able to stand up for vested interests rather than being in their pockets. David is forward-looking and inclusive. He’s not a tribal figure – I’ve seen him in action with constituents in Tottenham and speaking to business leaders, and he was able to connect equally impressively with both.

David is a normal Londoner, whose story exemplifies all that is good about our city. He’s passionate about the challenges the city faces about but optimistic and determined about our ability to overcome them. He’s a proven leader who always stands up for those who need it. While other candidates boast of their experience fighting marginal seats, David has had far bigger challenges to deal with: who could have failed to be impressed by the passion and leadership he showed after the 2011 riots in Tottenham? He was out on the streets reducing tensions while castigating rioters for destroying their own neighbourhoods. At the same time, he brilliantly articulated the alienation that so many young Londoners feel in a language that resonated across the city. That’s what I believe he would do as Mayor - leading from the front and bringing people together instead of practicing the old-style, divisive politics that drives people apart. 

Just as in the leadership contest, in London we need a fresh candidate who has broad appeal across the electorate. David is that candidate, and he’s building support across the party and across the city.

That’s why we’ve brought together a team of prominent figures and ordinary Londoners from across our city to advise David on his campaign. It includes leading figures in the London Labour Party like Catherine West, the former leader of Islington Council and now MP for Hornsey & Wood Green, and Stephen Timms, one of the biggest unifiers in the Labour Party, as Vice-Chairs. But this isn’t going to be a board full of political insiders. It’s going to be representative of the city David wants to lead – not just small segments of it. It also includes senior figures from the business world, cultural leaders and ordinary Londoners. It’s part of David’s determination not to appeal just to a narrow base but to reach across London as a whole. He is the only candidate who can do that to win us the mayoralty next year, and I’m delighted to be supporting him in delivering new leadership for a new London.

Photo: Getty
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The UK press’s timid reaction to Brexit is in marked contrast to the satire unleashed on Trump

For the BBC, it seems, to question leaving the EU is to be unpatriotic.

Faced with arguably their biggest political-cum-constitutional ­crisis in half a century, the press on either side of the pond has reacted very differently. Confronting a president who, unlike many predecessors, does not merely covertly dislike the press but rages against its supposed mendacity as a purveyor of “fake news”, the fourth estate in the US has had a pretty successful first 150-odd days of the Trump era. The Washington Post has recovered its Watergate mojo – the bloodhound tenacity that brought down Richard Nixon. The Post’s investigations into links between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s associates and appointees have yielded the scalp of the former security adviser Michael Flynn and led to Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from all inquiries into Trump-Russia contacts. Few imagine the story will end there.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has cast off its image as “the grey lady” and come out in sharper colours. Commenting on the James Comey memo in an editorial, the Times raised the possibility that Trump was trying to “obstruct justice”, and called on Washington lawmakers to “uphold the constitution”. Trump’s denunciations of the Times as “failing” have acted as commercial “rocket fuel” for the paper, according to its CEO, Mark Thompson: it gained an “astonishing” 308,000 net digital news subscriptions in the first quarter of 2017.

US-based broadcast organisations such as CNN and ABC, once considered slick or bland, have reacted to Trump’s bullying in forthright style. Political satire is thriving, led by Saturday Night Live, with its devastating impersonations of the president by Alec Baldwin and of his press secretary Sean Spicer by the brilliant Melissa McCarthy.

British press reaction to Brexit – an epic constitutional, political and economic mess-up that probably includes a mind-bogglingly destructive self-ejection from a single market and customs union that took decades to construct, a move pushed through by a far-right faction of the Tory party – has been much more muted. The situation is complicated by the cheerleading for Brexit by most of the British tabloids and the Daily Telegraph. There are stirrings of resistance, but even after an election in which Theresa May spectacularly failed to secure a mandate for her hard Brexit, there is a sense, though the criticism of her has been intense, of the media pussy-footing around a government in disarray – not properly interrogating those who still seem to promise that, in relation to Europe, we can have our cake and eat it.

This is especially the case with the BBC, a state broadcaster that proudly proclaims its independence from the government of the day, protected by the famous “arm’s-length” principle. In the case of Brexit, the BBC invoked its concept of “balance” to give equal airtime and weight to Leavers and Remainers. Fair enough, you might say, but according to the economist Simon Wren-Lewis, it ignored a “near-unanimous view among economists that Brexit would hurt the UK economy in the longer term”.

A similar view of “balance” in the past led the BBC to equate views of ­non-scientific climate contrarians, often linked to the fossil-fuel lobby, with those of leading climate scientists. Many BBC Remainer insiders still feel incensed by what they regard as BBC betrayal over Brexit. Although the referendum of 23 June 2016 said nothing about leaving the single market or the customs union, the Today presenter Justin Webb, in a recent interview with Stuart Rose, put it like this: “Staying in the single market, staying in the customs union – [Leave voters would say] you might as well not be leaving. That fundamental position is a matter of democracy.” For the BBC, it seems, to question Brexit is somehow to be unpatriotic.

You might think that an independent, pro-democratic press would question the attempted use of the arcane and archaic “royal prerogative” to enable the ­bypassing of parliament when it came to triggering Article 50, signalling the UK’s departure from the EU. But when the campaigner Gina Miller’s challenge to the government was upheld by the high court, the three ruling judges were attacked on the front page of the Daily Mail as “enemies of the people”. Thomas Jefferson wrote that he would rather have “newspapers without a government” than “a government without newspapers”. It’s a fair guess he wasn’t thinking of newspapers that would brand the judiciary as “enemies of the people”.

It does seem significant that the United States has a written constitution, encapsulating the separation and balance of powers, and explicitly designed by the Founding Fathers to protect the young republic against tyranny. When James Madison drafted the First Amendment he was clear that freedom of the press should be guaranteed to a much higher degree in the republic than it had been in the colonising power, where for centuries, after all, British monarchs and prime ministers have had no qualms about censoring an unruly media.

By contrast, the United Kingdom remains a hybrid of monarchy and democracy, with no explicit protection of press freedom other than the one provided by the common law. The national impulse to bend the knee before the sovereign, to obey and not question authority, remains strangely powerful in Britain, the land of Henry VIII as well as of George Orwell. That the United Kingdom has slipped 11 places in the World Press Freedom Index in the past four years, down to 40th, has rightly occasioned outrage. Yet, even more awkwardly, the United States is three places lower still, at 43rd. Freedom of the press may not be doing quite as well as we imagine in either country.

Harry Eyres is the author of Horace and Me: Life Lessons from an Ancient Poet (2013)

This article first appeared in the 20 July 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The new world disorder