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  1. Politics
24 August 2015

Will the Corbyn surge spell the end for Tessa Jowell?

The surge in support for Jeremy Corbyn may hurt the frontrunner for the London mayoral nomination. 

By Stephen Bush

Will the Corbyn surge spell the end for Tessa Jowell? The bookmakers’ briefly made Sadiq Khan favourite last week and the two candidates are now joint favourites as far as the Mayoral selection is concerned. Why? Both camps believe that Jowell has a strong first place among due-paying party members. But the Khan camp insist that the Corbyn surge has won it for their man – they say that Londoners who have joined to vote for Corbyn are overwhelmingly voting for their candidate, and that affiliated supporters – largely but not exclusively drawn from the trade unions – will vote in large numbers for their candidate. (The Jowell team, however, say that they are doing well among all sections of the electorate, and point out that when Unison surveyed its members, they found Jowell ahead.) 

Who’s right? Well, we won’t know until 11 September, when the result is announced. We know that Corbyn does better among trade unionists than any other section of the Labour electorate if the polls are to be believed. In the first round, if trade unionists were the only voters, Corbyn would win outright with 67 per cent of the vote. If £3 supporters were the only the voters, he would win in the first round with 55 per cent of the vote. If only members voted, he’d be on 49 per cent in the first round. (Although he would win after second preferences were taken into account.)

The question that will decide who wins Labour’s mayoral race is is: are trade union members voting for Corbyn because he has the backing of most trade unions – like Khan, he has been endorsed  by Unite, the CWU and the TSSA – or because of his politics?

Politically, the candidate who is closest to Corbyn in the mayoral race is not Khan but Diane Abbott, who has also been one of his loudest and earliest advocates. If affiliates are looking for a genuine anti-austerity candidate for the mayoralty, it is her.

But we forget too easily that most members of political parties are not as factional as we expect – the reason why I first became convinced that Corbyn was going to win was members who picked David Miliband “because he looked the part” in the words of one now saw the passionate Corbyn as the  right candidate. (Don’t forget that David Miliband did better in London than anywhere else – but at the same time, members backed Ken Livingstone by a  heavy margin.) There’s no reason why those members might not think that Jowell looks the part. Or David Lammy. Or Christian Wolmar. Or Khan. Or Abbott.

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What about registered supporters? Khan staffers say that close to 90 per cent of  £3 sign-ups supporters are going for their candidates – something that the Jowell campaign say they aren’t picking up. Meanwhile, the Abbott camp believe they are benefiting from their candidate’s political closeness to Jeremy Corbyn.  

It’s difficult to say anything for sure. I attended a Corbyn rally on Friday night, and in the queue outside, supporters of Khan were leafleting the event. The Tooting MP attracted a less than glowing response.  Not one of the people queuing were voting for him. Admittedly, this was in Islington, near to Abbott’s Hackney North & Stoke Newington constituency, and, you’d assume, that attendees at Corbyn rallies are politically well-informed and are therefore more likely to vote along left-right lines, benefiting Abbott.

My hunch is that £3 supporters and trade union affiliates will split three ways: some will vote for someone they’ve heard of (benefiting Jowell and Abbott), others will vote according to the politics of the candidate closest to Corbyn’s (benefiting Abbott) and others will vote tactically to stop the Blairite Jowell (benefiting Khan). What size those three groups are in will decide the mayoralty.  

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