Khan-do attitude sees off challenge from Blairite baroness

Sadiq Khan, the south London MP who had financial backing for his campaign from a Croydon property developer, has been selected to be Labour’s candidate to run for London Mayor next year.

Tooting MP Sadiq Khan could barely contain his delight as he made his acceptance speech at Festival Hall tody

Tooting MP Sadiq Khan could barely contain his delight as he made his acceptance speech at Festival Hall today

The announcement, made at the Festival Hall at lunchtime, was a shock result, since Baroness Jowell, the recently ennobled former Blairite cabinet member, had been the long-time front-runner.

Steve Reed OBE, the Progress MP for Lambeth South/Croydon North (delete as applicable) and a Jowell campaign leader who was sitting towards the front of the hand-picked audience, looked particularly crest-fallen. Like the rest of “Team Tessa”, he was quick to leave after the announcement – he’s clearly got an awkward weekend ahead of him.

The voting results showed that it was not even close, Khan getting 58.9 per cent of the fifth-round votes to Jowell’s 41.1 per cent. It is not the first time this year that the pollsters have got an election outcome badly wrong.

The result’s significance, coming the day before Labour is expected to announce that left-winger Jeremy Corbyn is its new leader, was not lost on any of the 200 or so party officials and campaign volunteers gathered in the roof pavilion overlooking the South Bank.

Kevin Maguire, the Mirror‘s political editor, tweeted profoundly, referring back to sun-rise on an historic Friday morning in May 1997: “Sadiq Khan’s victory over Tessa Jowell is stunning. The sun set on Blairism in a Royal Festival Hall where Blair made his new dawn speech.” Remember that? Things can only get bitter?

In total, 88,000 people voted – that figure alone drew a gasp of approval from the audience, as it represents a near trebling of Labour’s London “selectorate”. It comprises London Labour Party members, “affiliates” – that is union members and the like – plus the new three-pounders, those who signed up as Labour supporters.

With six candidates – the others were MPs Diane Abbott, David Lammy, Gareth Thomas, and Christian Wolmar, the only one in the field not a career politician – the transferable vote system was used. All the candidates had been hidden away in an ante-room before the “Big Reveal” took place in the same hall where a couple of weeks ago former Prime Minister Gordon Brown managed to give an hour-long televised party pep talk, warning Labour against voting for Corbyn, without ever once referring to Corbyn by name.

Jeremy Corbyn in Croydon last month: Steve Reed never bothered to show up for this meeting

Jeremy Corbyn addresses a packed Ruskin House in Croydon last month: Steve Reed OBE didn’t show up for this meeting

A feature of that performance was Brown’s restless prowling, back and forth, forth and back, while behind him on the South Bank, the modern-day take on the Skylon was whirling like a Dervish with passengers being spun around at great height and speed, all the time distracting viewers from what the former Great Leader had to say in his Very Important Speech.

Back in that room today, some waiting for the Mayoral selection result wondered whether the six candidates had been placed in the whirling Skylon’s pods, with each candidate to be dropped from a great height as they were eliminated from the voting process.

That idea might have to wait for another day. In fact, when the candidates and their aides arrived in the waiting room, they were forced to hand-in their mobiles before they were advised of the vote result, to ensure there were no leaks.

A Labour functionary started to read the votes round-by-round, but was quickly interrupted. “I think the candidates just want to know who won,” the official was told.

“When she arrived, Tessa looked like she thought she would win,” one of the insiders said. “When they announced the result, she was really shocked. Close to tears.”

Jowell’s campaign was funded with tens of thousands of pounds from property developers and from executives working for Thatcher’s former spin-doctor. Such largesse buys influence and its pays for lots of leaflets and phone banks, and some glitzy-looking, soft-focus mini-movies, including one which had a starring role for Sarah Jones, the Labour candidate who stood in Croydon Central in May.

But after today’s announcement, Jowell became unusually camera-shy, as she and her husband, David Mills – best known as Silvio Berlusconi’s sometime lawyer – were bustled away from reporters, avoiding too many awkward questions, with the obligatory chase from Michael Crick.

Any suggestion that the Blairite Baroness was beaten only by the Corbyn-effect and the enthusiastic three-pounder newcomers was quickly dispelled, however, with a look at the voting breakdown. Round-by-round, Khan won more votes in all three categories of voter, and round-by-round, he extended his lead over Jowell until he finally achieved more than 50 per cent of the votes.

the voting breakdown

How the voting broke down between Khan and Jowell

Khan, who is never slow to announce that he is the son of a bus driver, has therefore set up a contest next May against the Tories’ likely choice to replace Boris Johnson, Richmond MP Zac Goldsmith: the Mayoral race will be between a lad from a south London council estate and the Old Etonian son of a billionaire.

When, or whether, either of the two MPs opt to resign their Westminster seats in order to concentrate on the Mayoral race might be a signal of Goldsmith or Khan’s confidence in becoming Mayor, and their commitment to London. Or the lack of it.

In 2008, Boris Johnson waited until after he won the City Hall election before giving up his place in Parliament. Tonight, Khan admitted that he would not be resigning as an MP just yet, even though that is likely to undermine any future, and entirely justified, references to Johnson as a “part-time Mayor”.

“A full-time Mayor is what this city needs,” Khan said tonight, “to make sure we get the housing that Londoners badly need to rent and buy that’s affordable, to make sure we make public transport affordable whilst investing in the future.

“I’m going to make sure I give up doing any other jobs once I become the Mayor of London,” Khan said.

That will at least defer a by-election in Tooting, which may not feature too highly on the Labour Party’s wish list for the next few months: Khan’s majority was reduced to just 2,000 this year, putting the seat in Wandsworth under threat from the Tories due to the area’s gentrification.

Khan – whose father used to drive a bus – nearly missed the bus when it came to showing his commitment to the Mayoral selection. Khan was the shadow minister for London under Ed Miliband, and it was an open secret that the then Labour leader wanted the Tooting MP as the Mayoral candidate. But Labour’s selection was put back until after the General Election, and Khan kept his cards close to his chest. Last September, an official London hustings at Labour conference was cancelled when Khan opted out of being involved, having refused to declare his intention to seek selection.

In the end, it was only after Labour’s the General Election last May, when it was clear there would be no juicy job for Khan – the son of a bus driver, apparently – in a Miliband cabinet that he finally announced he wanted to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor.

Khan’s commitment issues might not be the only problems he faces in the next eight months until the City Hall elections, since his association with a Croydon property developer might compromise his message on housing, which tops his list of Mayoral priorities.

Khan had the support of Labour’s last Mayor, Ken Livingstone, but not from the hierarchy of the Progress-dominated leadership of the Labour Party in Croydon: as well as MP Reed, that includes the chair of the Labour group on the council, John Wentworth, and the council leader Tony Newman.

Croydon's Labour leadership apears to have backed the wrong Mayoral candidate. Whoops

Croydon’s Labour leadership appears to have backed the wrong Mayoral candidate. Whoops. Might this be a reflection of the judgement elsewhere, too?

Khan has recently acquired an enthusiasm for cleaning up London’s increasingly polluted air – largely from a raft of policies which he openly admitted to have “nicked” from rival candidate Wolmar. Croydon’s Labour leadership’s keenness to allow dual carriageways to be built through the borough at the whim of Hammersfield, or its pliant attitude towards neighbouring Sutton’s Beddington incinerator, should provide for interesting early meetings with any new Mayor Khan.

But Khan being elected is still some way away, and likely to be a key test of a Corbyn-led party. Importantly, Labour has at least selected a candidate who in some way reflects the diversity of the city he is seeking to represent.

Dave Hill, The Guardian‘s London correspondent (as well as a declared Khan supporter), highlighted an important factor in the choice of Khan: “In contrast to the rest of Britain, Labour did well in London in the General Election, gaining seats and taking a 44 per cent vote share compared with the Tories’ 35 per cent. That success wasn’t the work of just one man. However, Khan did run Labour’s London campaign.”

Maybe, as the song goes, things can only get better?

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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