Dave Hill spent a prolonged period in a darkened room last night with Tory blogger Iain Dale. Hill’s regular London column for the Guardian‘s website today doesn’t record whether he needed a thorough disinfecting afterwards.
What it does state quite clearly is that we have reached the endgame in the first of the two significant Labour elections coming up, that between Ken Livingstone and Ooooooona King for their party’s nomination to stand for London Mayor against the Old Etonian buffoon and bankers’ mate who is bungling away with our city.
Ken is back in Croydon tonight. Having launched his campaign in Croydon and then dominated – my opinion – the hustings with King here a couple of weeks ago, he is back to give a talk at Ruskin House.
It will be interesting how he approaches matters this time, given that following his and Ooooona’s hour-long debate with Hill and Dale on LBC last night, the Guardian‘s London columnist reports that King, the former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, seems to believe she is winning this particular nomination battle among individual members.
So, which way is the wind blowing? Oona has become a stronger performer with the passing weeks, becoming more solid and confident. Ken’s critics say he’s too anchored in the past, but that’s neither entirely right or necessarily a shortcoming at this stage: speaking to the ancestral leftiness of a membership I’m told Ken once described as being “the party of the metropolitan pervert” in the eyes of Labour counterparts elsewhere is logical positioning for him just now. The much trickier business of finding new ways of being both boldly to the left and freshly appealing to the rest can wait until if and when he becomes the candidate.
Team Oona hopes its making headway among the members. Team Ken conducted a mass texting canvass last week, and now Team Oona has done the same. By ten o’clock last night, when we came off air at LBC, they’d contacted 10,000 London members and had 3,123 replies of whom 42 percent said they supported Oona and 29 percent that they did not, with 16 percent undecided. Team Ken claimed a much higher positive response from their exercise, but Team Oona continues to stress that things could change. That said, I sense they fear that the affiliates half of the college is destined to swing Ken’s way. Those initiatives on pubs and live music were joint enterprises with unions. Ken knows which side his bread is buttered. How much can Oona scrape off it?
I never fail to be astonished at how some organisations – in this case King’s – can convince themselves that the absence of a response is in some way a positive thing for them.
- King’s campaign texted 10,000 London Labour members. Less than 4,000 responded. And of those, just 1,300 say they will support her.
When she spoke at the Croydon hustings two weeks ago, I could not get over how so much of what she had to say had the sound of the polished but empty rhetoric of a New Labour party hack. She described herself as a “young mother”. She’s 42.
Ken spoke of real events, real policies and real people.
King’s election leaflet comprises two sides of a glossy A5 card that is so policy lite that half the space is devoted to what you can do for her – and not in an inspired, JFK sort of way.
Livingstone’s pamphlet is four pages of policies and endorsements, and lists some impressive supporters including the influential former Croydon councillor Val Shawcross AM, Labour leadership candidate Diane Abbott, Len Duvall, Labour leader on the London Assembly, Streatham’s new MP Chukka Umunna, as well as Croydon Council’s Labour leader Tony Newman and Croydon North MP Malcolm Wicks.
At the hustings, I found King to be an incredibly difficult person to read. Her winning smile seemed to be permanently fixed on her face, whether she was speaking of the gravest of street stabbings, or politely being introduced for the first time. That was, frankly, a little bit scary.
She seemed to parrot much of what Livingstone had to say. In some ways, that is a very good thing, since as they’re both from the same party, you’d hope that they subscribe to broadly the same policies.
But what was truly telling was that Ken really was the better orator, the more impassioned speaker, and far more credible.
Then again, he does have a track record of eight years of delivery on promises as Mayor (and years on the GLC, too) to turn to, while King has the record of having voted in favour of the illegal invasion of Iraq and managing to lose a safe east London Labour seat to George Galloway.
“Let’s make the Mayoral election a referendum on the cuts,” Livingstone told his last Croydon audience in the week when the local Tory council had cut grants to the voluntary sector by two-thirds, yet had managed to award themselves pay rises. “We have to fight these cuts, line by line by line.”
King’s “policy”? “We can’t go back to the past, fighting an election with the same candidate on the same platform.” That’s the same logic that would see Alex Ferguson sacked as Man United’s manager after their first defeat of this season.
I can’t remember King offering a real reason why Labour should not use something, someone, that has a proven record of success. Nor did she offer a suggestion why she would be in any way “better”. Her ticket seems to be purely that, well, errr… she’s not Ken.
LIVINGSTONE IS NOTHING IF NOT a brave politician, who has stood toe-to-toe with Margaret Thatcher and Tony Bliar, when both Prime Ministers tried to oppose the will of Londoners in their choice of elected leader.
In the 1980s, Livingstone had his character dragged through the mud almost daily by The Sun, which painted him as the “Most Odious Man in Britain” because he dared hold talks with the IRA. At a time when Thatcher would not even allow television news to broadcast the voices of Gerry Adams or Martin McGuinness, Livingstone sought them out to ask them to stop bombing London. It was a piece of colossal political and personal courage, and in the main it worked.
Twelve years later, even the Tories were holding talks with the IRA leadership; 30 years on, and Adams and McGuinness are fulcrums of the peace process in Northern Ireland.
In the 1990s, Livingstone felt the call to leave his seat in Westminster and again lead London, much to the embarrassment of his erstwhile party leader Bliar. When the first London Mayoral elections were held, Livingstone was denied the support of the party he had joined as a lad.
Yet pitted against the might of the party machinery of both the Tories and Labour, Livingstone was overwhelmingly elected by the people of London, polling three times as many votes as Frank Dobson, who was put up by Bliar and Mandelson – or “Lord Voldermort” as Livingstone calls him – as Labour’s official candidate.
And in this decade, Livingstone has also looked the statesman. In Singapore on July 7, 2005, where the day before his support behind the Olympic bid had helped secure the 2012 Games for the capital, it was Livingstone more than anyone else who spoke for Londoners and for London after the latest outrage of terrorist bombings.
Cheap fares for Londoners? Livingstone delivered. Congestion charging? Livingstone delivered. East London Line? It was Livingstone who delivered on that project, and he promised at the hustings that the proposal for a Tram line from Crystal Palace to Croydon will be revived if he becomes Mayor.
Two years after losing to Johnson, interestingly Livingstone is almost apologetic when talking about doing more for outer London boroughs than he did in the past. “When you speak to a Londoner, they don’t say I’m an inner Londoner or an outer Londoner,” he said. “We all say that we’re Londoners.”
Much of this ground was covered in an in-depth interview earlier in the week in The Independent. Of Livingstone’s relaxed approach to the nomination battle, “some of this overweening confidence comes from being proved right against people who thought they knew better,” the interviewer writes.
Livingstone’s election theory, as explained in the interview, suggests that the reason he lost to Boris in 2008 was that Londoners fell for Johnson the joker. Now, says Livingstone, the joke’s not funny any more.
“Boris is incredibly clever, but he’s also lazy. I don’t think he actually expected or intended to win. His real problem is that instead of accepting this as the second best job in British politics, he basically wants to return to Parliament to succeed Cameron. All great world cities need mayors who are innovative, take risks, and Boris is risk adverse.”