Sadiq Khan on the campaign trail in Battersea. Photo: Getty Images
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Why we're backing Sadiq Khan to win for London

Margaret Hodge and Oona King explain why they're backing Sadiq Khan for Labour's mayoral nomination

In order to change our country for the better, Labour needs to win elections. That applies to every election we fight – whether for local government seats, devolved Parliaments, city Mayors or general elections. The first opportunity we have to show that we have learnt the lessons of the past five years is next May, in elections to Scottish parliament, the Welsh Assembly and of course for London Mayor. We firmly believe that the candidate best placed to win in London for Labour is Sadiq Khan.

London is changing. Our city is becoming younger and more diverse. Nearly half of all Londoners are now minority ethnic and the average age of Londoners is 34. If we are to win over these voters, we need to hand over to the next generation. We need a candidate who can win over all Londoners – regardless of age, income or ethnicity. Just this week Sadiq showed his intentions to win over voters who have left Labour, reaching out to Jewish voters in London, who abandoned us in 2012 and 2015.

And he understands that insecurity is something that reaches right up the income scale: middle class professionals worry not only about jobs, housing and school places, but the cost of childcare and transport, and the safety of the city where so many raise their children.

Sadiq is the only candidate for Labour’s nomination who has fought and won a marginal seat. Winning tough seats like Tooting requires candidates to reach out and win support from people not naturally inclined to vote Labour. Tooting is a microcosm of London – with some areas of urban poverty with a large ethnic minority population, but much of the constituency is leafy, suburban and affluent. Sadiq has now won Tooting three times, including in 2010 when he was the top Tory target seat in London and faced a flood of activists money. We need a candidate for Mayor who knows what it takes to win.

Sadiq is the only candidate who has run a successful London-wide campaign.  He led the 2014 Borough and European election campaign in the capital, where Labour achieved our best results in a generation. We won control of an additional five Boroughs, mostly in outer London, in places like Croydon, Redbridge and Harrow. And we won half of London’s eight MEPs for the first time ever. 

Sadiq also led Labour’s general election campaign in London. London was the only region of the UK in which Labour made a net gain of seats. We held all 38 Labour seats and made seven additional gains, winning back seats lost in 1983, 2003, 2005 and 2010. We won 44% of the vote – our best result since 2001. And all this against a backdrop of failure and losses across the rest of the UK. The campaign even won plaudits from Tories and LibDems.

That’s why we’re backing Sadiq for Mayor. Because he is the candidate best placed to win the Mayoralty for Labour and take the first step on the long road back to power.
 

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Arsène Wenger: how can an intelligent manager preside over such a hollowed-out team?

The Arsenal manager faces a frustrating legacy.

Sport is obviously not all about winning, but it is about justified hope. That ­distinction has provided, until recently, a serious defence of Arsène Wenger’s Act II – the losing part. Arsenal haven’t won anything big for 13 years. But they have been close enough (and this is a personal view) to sustain the experience of investing emotionally in the story. Hope turning to disappointment is fine. It’s when the hope goes, that’s the problem.

Defeat takes many forms. In both 2010 and 2011, Arsenal lost over two legs to Barcelona in the Champions League. Yet these were rich and rewarding sporting experiences. In the two London fixtures of those ties, Arsenal drew 2-2 and won 2-1 against the most dazzling team in the world. Those nights reinvigorated my pride in sport. The Emirates Stadium had the best show in town. Defeat, when it arrived in Barcelona, was softened by gratitude. We’d been entertained, more than entertained.

Arsenal’s 5-1 surrender to Bayern Munich on 15 February was very different. In this capitulation by instalments, the fascination was macabre rather than dramatic. Having long given up on discerning signs of life, we began the post-mortem mid-match. As we pored over the entrails, the curiosity lay in the extent of the malady that had brought down the body. The same question, over and over: how could such an intelligent, deep-thinking manager preside over a hollowed-out team? How could failings so obvious to outsiders, the absence of steel and resilience, evade the judgement of the boss?

There is a saying in rugby union that forwards (the hard men) determine who wins, and the backs (the glamour boys) decide by how much. Here is a footballing equivalent: midfielders define matches, attacking players adorn them and defenders get the blame. Yet Arsenal’s players as good as vacated the midfield. It is hard to judge how well Bayern’s playmakers performed because they were operating in a vacuum; it looked like a morale-boosting training-ground drill, free from the annoying presence of opponents.

I have always been suspicious of the ­default English critique which posits that mentally fragile teams can be turned around by licensed on-field violence – a good kicking, basically. Sporting “character” takes many forms; physical assertiveness is only one dimension.

Still, it remains baffling, Wenger’s blind spot. He indulges artistry, especially the mercurial Mesut Özil, beyond the point where it serves the player. Yet he won’t protect the magicians by surrounding them with effective but down-to-earth talents. It has become a diet of collapsing soufflés.

What held back Wenger from buying the linchpin midfielder he has lacked for many years? Money is only part of the explanation. All added up, Arsenal do spend: their collective wage bill is the fourth-highest in the League. But Wenger has always been reluctant to lavish cash on a single star player, let alone a steely one. Rather two nice players than one great one.

The power of habit has become debilitating. Like a wealthy but conservative shopper who keeps going back to the same clothes shop, Wenger habituates the same strata of the transfer market. When he can’t get what he needs, he’s happy to come back home with something he’s already got, ­usually an elegant midfielder, tidy passer, gets bounced in big games, prone to going missing. Another button-down blue shirt for a drawer that is well stuffed.

It is almost universally accepted that, as a business, Arsenal are England’s leading club. Where their rivals rely on bailouts from oligarchs or highly leveraged debt, Arsenal took tough choices early and now appear financially secure – helped by their manager’s ability to engineer qualification for the Champions League every season while avoiding excessive transfer costs. Does that count for anything?

After the financial crisis, I had a revealing conversation with the owner of a private bank that had sailed through the turmoil. Being cautious and Swiss, he explained, he had always kept more capital reserves than the norm. As a result, the bank had made less money in boom years. “If I’d been a normal chief executive, I’d have been fired by the board,” he said. Instead, when the economic winds turned, he was much better placed than more bullish rivals. As a competitive strategy, his winning hand was only laid bare by the arrival of harder times.

In football, however, the crash never came. We all wrote that football’s insane spending couldn’t go on but the pace has only quickened. Even the Premier League’s bosses confessed to being surprised by the last extravagant round of television deals – the cash that eventually flows into the hands of managers and then the pockets of players and their agents.

By refusing to splash out on the players he needed, whatever the cost, Wenger was hedged for a downturn that never arrived.

What an irony it would be if football’s bust comes after he has departed. Imagine the scenario. The oligarchs move on, finding fresh ways of achieving fame, respectability and the protection achieved by entering the English establishment. The clubs loaded with debt are forced to cut their spending. Arsenal, benefiting from their solid business model, sail into an outright lead, mopping up star talent and trophies all round.

It’s often said that Wenger – early to invest in data analytics and worldwide scouts; a pioneer of player fitness and lifestyle – was overtaken by imitators. There is a second dimension to the question of time and circumstance. He helped to create and build Arsenal’s off-field robustness, even though football’s crazy economics haven’t yet proved its underlying value.

If the wind turns, Arsène Wenger may face a frustrating legacy: yesterday’s man and yet twice ahead of his time. 

Ed Smith is a journalist and author, most recently of Luck. He is a former professional cricketer and played for both Middlesex and England.

This article first appeared in the 24 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The world after Brexit