The next London mayoral election will be the first in which neither Ken Livingstone nor Boris Johnson is a candidate. In his concession speech in 2012, Livingstone ruefully said that he would not fight another campaign, while Johnson now rarely disguises his intention to stand for parliament in 2015. With the departure of these hegemons, the capital’s other big beasts are considering their chances of taking City Hall in 2016.
It is on the Labour side that activity is greatest. The end of the Tories’ Boris bonus means that the election is the opposition’s to lose. Through speeches, blogs and op-eds, the contenders are making themselves known. There is David Lammy, the Tottenham MP, who “thought hard” about whether to stand in 2012 before opting to chair Livingstone’s campaign and has already published an attack dossier on Johnson’s record (“Boris Isn’t Working”). Then there is Tessa Jowell, lauded for her role in bringing the Olympics to London and well liked across the party despite her defiantly Blairite politics.
On the left, there is Diane Abbott, liberated to speak freely after her recent sacking from the front bench and framing herself as a Livingstone-style maverick. “Londoners don’t want a party hack. Big cities never want a party hack,” she said recently.
The field spans out to include Andrew Adonis, the cerebral former transport secretary, whose passion for infrastructure and grands projets prompted him to declare in 2011 that he “would love to be mayor”. Other possible contenders include Oona King, Livingstone’s defeated rival from the last selection contest, and Margaret Hodge, the redoubtable chair of the public accounts committee.
If there is a candidate to watch, it is Sadiq Khan. The shadow justice secretary is one of Labour’s most articulate and energetic performers and was recently named shadow minister for London by Ed Miliband (whose leadership campaign he managed in 2010). Borrowing the metaphor used by Johnson to describe his prime ministerial ambitions, he recently remarked: “If I was at the edge of the box and the ball came free and I thought I had the best chance of shooting and scoring, then I might do it. But let’s see if the ball comes free.”
Whether “the ball comes free” may yet rest on the result of the general election. “Sadiq might feel duty-bound to serve as justice secretary if Labour wins,” one party figure told me, noting that he had held the brief since Miliband’s first reshuffle. For this reason, Labour is likely to delay the selection contest until after 2015, to avoid candidates’ bids being viewed as a judgement on the party’s election chances.
The joker in the pack is Eddie Izzard. The stand-up comedian will not run this time (despite leading in the polls) but has pledged to do so in 2020, suggesting that he either expects a Labour defeat or plans to challenge an incumbent. The announcement prompted one Labour MP to refer me to “the curse of Izzard”: “He campaigned for the euro and for AV. What could possibly go wrong?”