The candidates, mid-hust. Photo: Twitter/@AlvinCarpio
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Five things we learnt from the Labour London Mayoral hustings

Labour’s candidates for London mayor had their first hustings. What did they reveal?

Open season

It was open season on Ed Miliband, with one of the first topics being the mansion tax. In what ended up being a sort of top-down Two Minutes Hate about the divisive policy, the candidates revealed how they approach the Miliband era in general.

Diane Abbott emphasised that she had always been a critic, and independent-minded, adding: “The people at the top of the party who promoted it didn't really understand London”. Tessa Jowell subtly stuck the knife in, saying the tax was “in effect, a three bedroom terraced house tax”. In contrast, Sadiq Khan defended the principle of the “broadest shoulders carrying the heaviest burden”.

But it was later when the candidates were discussing airport expansion that the harshest condemnation of the former Labour leader sprang up. David Lammy, criticising Khan’s changing stance on the idea of a third Heathrow runway, bellowed: “Don’t play the same Ed Miliband politics that got us nowhere”.

 

You and whose powers?

One particular frustration with the mayoral selection is the temptation to propose policies that are not in the London mayor’s remit.

When asked if they would like City Hall powers broadened, all the panellists reeled off a wish list of the things they’d like to control – from income tax to school places. But they neglected to say how they would wrest these powers from the Tory government, or even campaign for them.

Jowell and political outsider Christian Wolmar were the most convincing in this area. Both repeatedly brought the debate back to what the London mayor can actually control. Jowell insisted on “realistic” housing targets, by starting off building on land owned by the mayor (which equals the size of Camden). And Wolmar directly referred to the role’s limitations on land value tax and rent capping – “we can bat for it but unfortunately we have a Tory government which won’t enable it” – and airport expansion (“oddly enough this isn’t a mayoral function!”).

 

Global race

Where Khan shone was on the global context of being a city mayor. He had clearly done his research on what powers mayors around the world have, and how they use them, from the New York mayor Bill de Blasio’s tech talent academy to the Stuttgart mayor’s business partnerships, with stop and frisk powers and everything else in between.

As London differs wildly from the rest of the country, couching it in an international context adds weight to calls for devolution to the capital. Devolution is at the heart of Gareth Thomas's pitch, but all candidates are passionate about London receiving more powers, with Jowell being particularly strong on the practical benefits of devolving power both to City Hall and out to the boroughs.

 

Election over selection

The Jowell camp sees her ultimate trump card as her ability to win the election against the Tory candidate next May. “This selection is about who can win,” a sympathiser puts it simply.

Indeed, a YouGov poll recently put Jowell +3 among Tory London voters.

Plus her record in leafy Dulwich & West Norwood, and focus throughout the general election campaign on having a broad appeal (she told me ahead of May “my best way to spend a Sunday afternoon is talking to Tories”), make her the candidate most likely to pick up non-Labour voters.

Wolmar did a bit of this, saying he had the policies to take on Zac Goldsmith (if not his “looks or his money”) – and as a non-politician, could reach non-Labour voters. Thomas too highlighted his record of consistently beating the Tories to his outer London seat of Harrow.

There are concerns that rhetoric about the election, not the selection, is uncomradely. For example, there's been some muttering among the Labour ranks over an email recently sent out by Jowell’s campaign team directly referring to Khan following the YouGov poll (“Tessa beats the Tories, but Sadiq doesn’t” is its subject line). “If you’re the frontrunner, you shouldn’t mention your opponent; just glide over it,” one Labour source says.

 

Fasten your greenbelts

In spite of the debate focusing on the need to build more housing, the only candidate in favour of building on the greenbelt is Lammy. This was popular with the audience, but is it impossible for the other candidates to inch anywhere near the greenbelt for fear of losing voters in boroughs further out?

Anoosh Chakelian is deputy web editor at the New Statesman.

Jeremy Corbyn delivers a speech on the arts in north London on September 1, 2015. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Can Labour MPs force Corbyn to bring back shadow cabinet elections?

It is not up to the parliamentary party whether the contests are reintroduced. 

Soon after Jeremy Corbyn became the frontrunner in the Labour leadership contest, it was reported that he intended to bring back shadow cabinet elections. But as I later wrote, that's not the case. Corbyn has resolved that he will maintain the right to appoint his own team, rather than having it elected by MPs (as was the case before Ed Miliband changed the system in 2011). As he wrote in the NS: "Whoever emerges as leader on 12 September needs a shadow cabinet in place as soon as possible. I will appoint a strong, diverse shadow cabinet to hold this government to account from day one."

Now, ahead of his likely victory a week on Saturday, Corbyn is under pressure from some MPs to reverse his stance. Barry Sheerman, the former education select commitee chair, told me that he wanted a "serious discussion" within the PLP about the return of the elections. While some support their reinstatement on principled grounds, others recognise that there is a tactical advantage in Corbyn's opponents winning a mandate from MPs. His hand would be further weakened (he has the declared support of just 14 of his Commons colleagues). 

But their reinstatement is not as simple as some suggest. One senior MP told me that those demanding their return "had not read the rule book". Miliband's decision to scrap the elections was subsequently approved at party conference meaning that only this body can revive them. A simple majority of MPs is not enough. 

With Corbyn planning to have a new team in place as soon as possible after his election, there is little prospect of him proposing such upheaval at this point. Meanwhile, Chuka Umunna has attracted much attention by refusing to rule out joining the left-winger's shadow cabinet if he changes his stances on nuclear disarmament, Nato, the EU and taxation (a lengthy list). Umunna is unlikely to remain on the frontbench but having previously pledged not to serve, he now recognises that there is value in being seen to at least engage with Corbyn. Were he to simply adopt a stance of aggression, he would risk being blamed if the backbencher failed. It is one example of how the party's modernisers recognise they need to play a smarter game. I explore this subject further in my column in tomorrow's NS

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.