Sol Campbell wants to be London's next mayor. Photo: Getty
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Ex-footballer Sol Campbell running for London Mayor shows the Tories' celebrity strategy at play

Sol Campbell is the most high-profile figure to declare his interest in being the Conservative candidate to succeed Boris Johnson so far.

It is CCHQ’s strategy to persuade famous figures with Tory leanings to run for the London mayoralty. And they seem to be having some success in this quest, as ex-footballer Sol Campbell has officially confirmed that he will stand to be the Conservative candidate to succeed Boris Johnson.

The first Tory mayoral hustings has been announced, and Campbell – the former England captain – will be partaking. Rumours about the ex-Arsenal defender’s mayoral intentions have been flying around for a while, after a number of interviews and comments revealing his interest in politics, and his enthusiasm for the Conservative party.

He will be up against City Hall functionaries Stephen Greenhalgh and Andrew Boff, and “two additional potential candidates are actively considering” whether to attend the hustings. London entrepreneur and gay rights campaigner Ivan Massow is also running for the Tory candidacy. The hustings will take place on 4 July.

Speaking to The Sun, Campbell said:

I’m going in with my eyes wide open. I know I’m not going to be a frontrunner.

But I look at people who have been in politics for five, 10, 15 years, and muck up, you see them muck up and think ‘You guys are supposed to be pro!’ People that have gone to Oxbridge, had thousands spent on their education, and I mean they are royally mucking up . . .

I come from a working class background, I wasn’t easy for me at all, but I worked hard. And now it’s about giving something back.

As I reported late last year, the main fear of Labourites in the London Assembly about the mayoralty election is that the Tories will field a “celebrity candidate”.

A character known outside of politics could be what the Conservatives need to beat Labour to controlling a generally Labour-leaning city.

Indeed, some Tories believe the celeb strategy is their only chance against the well-known, experienced politician they’d be up against on the Labour side (at present, the frontrunner is Tessa Jowell). The Tory MP for Westminster Mark Field was frank about this when I spoke to him following the general election:

Given the relatively limited political powers that the role has, it almost lends itself quite well to a quasi-celebrity. And that may well be the route we will take as a party, to be able to have someone who is able to offer that.

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

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Labour's establishment suspects a Momentum conspiracy - they're right

Bernie Sanders-style organisers are determined to rewire the party's machine.  

If you wanted to understand the basic dynamics of this year’s Labour leadership contest, Brighton and Hove District Labour Party is a good microcosm. On Saturday 9 July, a day before Angela Eagle was to announce her leadership bid, hundreds of members flooded into its AGM. Despite the room having a capacity of over 250, the meeting had to be held in three batches, with members forming an orderly queue. The result of the massive turnout was clear in political terms – pro-Corbyn candidates won every position on the local executive committee. 

Many in the room hailed the turnout and the result. But others claimed that some in the crowd had engaged in abuse and harassment.The national party decided that, rather than first investigate individuals, it would suspend Brighton and Hove. Add this to the national ban on local meetings and events during the leadership election, and it is easy to see why Labour seems to have an uneasy relationship with mass politics. To put it a less neutral way, the party machine is in a state of open warfare against Corbyn and his supporters.

Brighton and Hove illustrates how local activists have continued to organise – in an even more innovative and effective way than before. On Thursday 21 July, the week following the CLP’s suspension, the local Momentum group organised a mass meeting. More than 200 people showed up, with the mood defiant and pumped up.  Rather than listen to speeches, the room then became a road test for a new "campaign meetup", a more modestly titled version of the "barnstorms" used by the Bernie Sanders campaign. Activists broke up into small groups to discuss the strategy of the campaign and then even smaller groups to organise action on a very local level. By the end of the night, 20 phonebanking sessions had been planned at a branch level over the following week. 

In the past, organising inside the Labour Party was seen as a slightly cloak and dagger affair. When the Labour Party bureaucracy expelled leftwing activists in past decades, many on went further underground, organising in semi-secrecy. Now, Momentum is doing the exact opposite. 

The emphasis of the Corbyn campaign is on making its strategy, volunteer hubs and events listings as open and accessible as possible. Interactive maps will allow local activists to advertise hundreds of events, and then contact people in their area. When they gather to phonebank in they will be using a custom-built web app which will enable tens of thousands of callers to ring hundreds of thousands of numbers, from wherever they are.

As Momentum has learned to its cost, there is a trade-off between a campaign’s openness and its ability to stage manage events. But in the new politics of the Labour party, in which both the numbers of interested people and the capacity to connect with them directly are increasing exponentially, there is simply no contest. In order to win the next general election, Labour will have to master these tactics on a much bigger scale. The leadership election is the road test. 

Even many moderates seem to accept that the days of simply triangulating towards the centre and getting cozy with the Murdoch press are over. Labour needs to reach people and communities directly with an ambitious digital strategy and an army of self-organising activists. It is this kind of mass politics that delivered a "no" vote in Greece’s referendum on the terms of the Eurozone bailout last summer – defying pretty much the whole of the media, business and political establishment. 

The problem for Corbyn's challenger, Owen Smith, is that many of his backers have an open problem with this type of mass politics. Rather than investigate allegations of abuse, they have supported the suspension of CLPs. Rather than seeing the heightened emotions that come with mass mobilisations as side-effects which needs to be controlled, they have sought to joins unconnected acts of harassment, in order to smear Jeremy Corbyn. The MP Ben Bradshaw has even seemed to accuse Momentum of organising a conspiracy to physically attack Labour MPs.

The real conspiracy is much bigger than that. Hundreds of thousands of people are arriving, enthusiastic and determined, into the Labour party. These people, and their ability to convince the communities of which they are a part, threaten Britain’s political equilibrium, both the Conservatives and the Labour establishment. When the greatest hope for Labour becomes your greatest nightmare, you have good call to feel alarmed.