What does Margaret Hodge bowing out mean for Labour's mayoral election race?

The Public Accounts Committee chair and MP for Barking has ruled herself out as a potential candidate for the mayoral election.

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Margaret Hodge, the Labour MP for Barking, has bowed out of the race to become London mayor. Hodge – whose interrogations of squirming chief executives as chair of the Public Accounts Committee have found her fame beyond the committee corridor – was hitherto expected to try for the Labour mayoral candidacy.

When asked by the Evening Standard who she will endorse, the London MP reportedly signalled that she is still deciding between mayoral hopefuls David Lammy and Sadiq Khan, but was firm in her assertion that she would like to see a mayor from an ethnic minority background:

“I actually think the time is right for us to have a non-white mayor . . . London is a diverse city but we are poor at representation. But let’s wait and see what the candidates say they can do for London.”

By making this point, Hodge is ruling out the prospect of backing Tessa Jowell, who (along with the lesser-known transport expert Christian Wolmar) is the only non-BME Labour figure in the running for the candidacy.

Although some previously expected Hodge to back down and give Jowell her endorsement, her call for a BME candidate won’t necessarily be a hindrance to Jowell’s campaign. As one Labour aide tells me: “As Hodge is now out of the race, surely this will help Tessa. They sort of occupy the same space – and not just because they’re both seen as nice old ladies! Margaret is a little to the right of the party these days, as is Tessa.”

Indeed, a collapse in support for Hodge shown by polling in December last year gave Jowell a boost in turn.

In terms of which candidate will receive Hodge’s backing, she has yet to say, if she says at all. One Labour source close to Khan, the current frontrunner in the Labour mayoral race, admits, “it could well be David Lammy – I think she’s closest to him politically”.

Hodge gave her verdict on each of the mayoral hopefuls to the Standard:

  • She told the paper that Lammy is “a really important symbol” of modern London and has “an important back-story to tell”.
     
  • She called Khan “an assertive fighter” who also has “a good story to tell”.
     
  • She described Diane Abbott as a “feisty woman, but I think she is the most distant from my own politics”.
     
  • She praised Jowell as having been, “incredibly successful at delivering the Olympics”, and said she would be a “good consensual advocate for London”.
     
  • When asked about Wolmar, she replied mischievously: “Who?”
     

Hodge’s motivation for standing down could be that she privately believes Ed Miliband will not win the election. That way she would be able to remain in her current job as chair of the Public Accounts Committee (a position that must be filled by an opposition politician), a post she clearly adores and has long been her political priority.

One Labour adviser to another London MP says it’s possible Hodge doesn’t see a Labour victory ahead and tells me, “I’ve always wondered about whether she really wanted it [to be mayor] given she has found fame and fortune as chair of the PAC.”

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.