The first split of the general election campaign has arrived, with Scottish Labour leader Jim Murphy and Diane Abbott going to war over the mansion tax. Murphy has pledged to use Scotland’s share of the revenue to fund 1,000 new nurses north of the border, leading Abbott to attack him on The World At One for believing “he can buy Scottish votes with money expropriated from London” (the mirror image of the nationalist claim that England is “stealing” North Sea oil). For his part, Murphy declared: “I don’t have to consult Diane Abbott … I am leader of the Scottish Labour Party, not Diane.”
Abbott isn’t the only one of Labour’s London mayoral candidates to have denounced Murphy. David Lammy said: “This has been my concern about the Mansion Tax from the start: that up to 90 per cent of it will come from the pockets of Londoners while only a tiny proportion will be spent on London’s public services. It cannot be right, when one in three Londoners is living in poverty, that the money raised from London taxpayers continues to be siphoned off to other regions.” And Tessa Jowell said: “London’s needs are great – we cannot simply act as the cash cow for the rest of the UK.”
Among those who will be angered by the public divisions is Sadiq Khan, Labour’s shadow justice secretary and shadow London minister. When I interviewed him yesterday for the NS, he warned the party’s mayoral candidates not to be “distracted” from fighting the general election. He told me:
Until the general election’s done and dusted, all our energies have to be focused on it. London is best served by a Labour government; anybody who’s distracted by campaigning, by doing anything for themselves as an individual is letting down London. Not letting down the Labour Party, not just letting down themselves, letting down London.
I understand why people have declared they want to be candidates, I understand why people are chasing money for their campaigns, I understand all that. But I tell you what, you’ve got to ask yourself the question ‘Is what I’m doing, more or less likely to help secure be a Labour government after 7 May?’ If the answer is more likely, all well and good, but if you’re distracted running a campaign, how is that helping the Labour Party?
He added: “The point is this: you could have the best Labour mayor we’ve ever seen, but if you’ve got a Tory government privatising the NHS, not building homes, increasing inequality, keeping the bedroom tax, having young people thrown on the scrapheap, leaving the European Union, Scotland breaking away from the United Kingdom, what is the point? All our efforts need to be focused on making sure there’s a Labour government on 7 May, that’s where my energies are focused. Labour Party members, Labour Party supporters, the trade unions, MPs from outside London who are Labour will not forgive those people who want to be the Mayor of London who are distracted before 7 May in campaigning.”
But what of Khan’s own intentions? The Tooting MP is regarded by Labour figures as almost certain to stand for the mayoral nomination this summer. He told me: “It’s a privilege just to be asked that question. I can’t tell you what a buzz it gives me as somebody born and raised here, son of immigrants, whose Dad was a bus driver, Mum was a seamstress, I’ve got eight siblings, living on a council estate … for you to ask me that question is so flattering – and it’s a job I’d love to do one day.”
From that answer it is clear that the general election is unlikely to be Khan’s only big battle this year.
The full version of our interview with Sadiq Khan will appear in this week’s NS.