ITN’s Cathy Newman, writing last week, is right in much of her analysis of Jeremy Corbyn’s appeal. Labour members and supporters, worn down by defeat, are sick to death of politics as usual. She’s also right that there is a real opportunity for women candidates to personify the change that so many yearn for.
But I challenge her view that this opportunity is being missed. As the race for the Labour Mayoral nomination reaches its final weeks, voters in London are getting the chance to witness a very different kind of leadership, and to see how that difference brings a fresh take on politics.
Tessa Jowell, the frontrunner, is not out of central casting. The 67 year old former psychiatric social worker is a mother and grandmother whose passion to bring about the change London needs is matched by her collaborative rather than combative approach. Her vision was to bring together unlikely partners – community groups, big business, politicians of every hue and, crucially, ordinary members of the public who had never been involved in civil society before – to deliver the most successful Olympics the world has seen.
She does politics differently too, determined to respect her opponents. She has a strict “no briefings” rule for all her team (banning off the record negative comments about her fellow candidates), no matter what comes her way. In the hustings that are currently being conducted all over London her performance is marked by a measured, almost conversational style. She’s more likely to ask questions of the questioner, instead of spouting rhetoric. And (to the fury of her minders) she always answers the question, however tricky.
She’s known for being, well, really nice. It’s hard to imagine anyone better placed to create the “kinder”, fairer London that she talks about. But she’s not a soft touch – once she has weighed up the evidence and decided that something is the right thing to do, think twice before crossing her, for she can be as stubborn as a mule. The Department of Culture, Media and Sport actually held ‘talk her out of it” sessions to persuade her that her dream of bidding for and winning the Olympics for London was a waste of time and resources. Luckily, she dug her heels in, and won.
And she shares voters’ impatience with talk for its own sake, preferring to get things done. She draws on her own extensive experience to make this happen – the Olympics of course, but also setting up Sure Start, which she plans to re-introduce across London to realise her ambition for an equal start in life for every Londoner.
Many believe that the real reason for Corbyn’s success is that dispirited Labour party members simply don’t believe that they can win the next election, concluding that they may as well take a risk since 2020 is a lost cause. But in just nine month’s time Labour folk could see the values they hold dear translated into action in London. The polls show clearly that only Jowell can beat Zac Goldsmith, the most likely Tory candidate.
And as a woman with a very different leadership style she’ll show that it doesn’t have to be politics as usual.
Deborah Mattinson is founding director of Britain Thinks.