The news that Zac Goldsmith is running to be Mayor of London is a sign that the Conservatives are looking to the future. Any sense in the Labour Party that we could take winning the mayoralty next year for granted has been shattered. The party will have to sit up and take note: this election is far from won.
Zac is a formidable opponent. He is young, energetic and most importantly independent-minded. Voters will not care what school he attended – only zealots use someone’s background as a form of abuse. Londoners have shown they do not want a Mayor who is a party hack, and in choosing Labour’s candidate we should remember that.
Goldsmith has already done what a Labour mayoral candidate must also do: win support well beyond his Party and work across party divides on important issues. His credibility with the Greens is high and he brought together a wide variety of people in support of his Bill to give constituents the right to recall MP’s. It is going to take a candidate with serious qualities and an unblemished record to beat him.
This is especially true given the situation in which Labour finds itself in the capital. As Jon Cruddas rightly warned last week, the general election results in London were not a great success. We didn’t make the gains we should have, and lost key bellwether seats that we had fully expected to win. Overall the London campaign was unimaginative, negative and narrow in scope. Sadiq Khan, a candidate for Mayor, led that campaign and as a close ally of Ed Miliband has experience in politics and is a ruthless campaigner. But the risk with choosing any party insider is that they are unable to win over the many thousands of swing voters we need in order to win the mayoralty next year. Londoners will treat any sign of tribalism or a candidate’s dependence on Trade Unions as they did in 2008 and 2012: by electing another Conservative Mayor.
Tessa Jowell, another candidate, played a lead role in bringing the Olympics to London and won widespread praise for that. She is seen as a safe pair of hands and someone who won’t rock the boat – but can she compete with the energy and vision of someone like Goldsmith? Tessa has always said she will put the Party first – is that the kind of Mayor London needs? I think that, just like the Olympic flame, it is time for Tessa to pass the baton on to the next generation. We can all be proud of our contributions over the years but the future belongs to a different generation now.
The third frontrunner, David Lammy, is slightly less well known than the other two, but is an inspiring figure. His leadership skills shone through in the aftermath of the riots in his constituency. Since then he has outlined a series of bold and serious policy proposals and gives the sense of being a man on a mission. His story – growing up to a single mum in the shadows of a Tottenham estate and then going on to study at Harvard and become an MP – demonstrates London at its best. His campaign is a grassroots one, bringing together Londoners from across the city.
Whoever is chosen as the Labour candidate for Mayor, it must be someone who represents a break with the past. We need a new, fresh brand to match that of Zac Goldsmith’s. That’s why I worry when I see Mayoral candidates standing with mayors of the past, or nostalgically reminiscing about historic triumphs. There is a real danger that we spend so much time looking backwards that we don’t recognise how much London has changed in the eight years since we had a Labour Mayor.
The mayoral election next year will be a chance for Labour to show Londoners that we have learnt lessons, and that we want to rebuild relationships with those who used to support or at least listen to us. It is time for a new generation of leaders, with a vision for London and the ability to win. As David Cameron once told Tony Blair, “You were the future once”. In this mayoral selection, London Labour must choose a candidate to make it the future once again.