The Thick of It


Friday, July 09, 2010

Report on London Labour mayoral hustings

Last night I attended a London Labour Party mayoral hustings. Chaired by Mayor of Hackney Jules Pipe, candidates Oona King and Ken Livingstone took questions from party members and pitched for their support to become Labour's candidate. Both had fans in the audience but I went into the session willing a strong performance from King because I feel it is time that Labour puts forward a new candidate after several decades of Ken. I'm not a natural bed-fellow of Ken but I've campaigned for him, shared a radio show with him and am a supporter of the many visionary changes he brought to London.

I asked the candidates how they would ensure the campaign was fought on forward thinking plans for the next four years in London. We heard a great deal about the past. Listening to Ken reminded me of his many achievements over several decades in London. This is his strongest suit and is why I think it likely that London Labour members will pick him as their candidate. Despite his achievements I feel that it is time for Labour in London to move on.

Ken is gearing up for a replay of the 1980s when he battled Margaret Thatcher's Tory government. She was perhaps the most name-checked politician last night, almost all from Ken. This isn't useful. Though we face a similarly vicious and right wing Tory government I want a mayor who will focus on fighting London's problems and not try to score political points against the government.

King was no less forthright in positioning the mayor as a buttress to help protect the poor from government cuts. "We need to win the war" she said. This was fighting talk. It was also clear that King had her eyes on the bigger prize: just as the Tories used winning the mayoralty as a stepping stone back into government, she was clear that this was also a great opportunity for Labour to do the same. Only by having a Labour government can we properly protect the poor - I agree, as there is only so much power the mayor has.

King spoke of the "opportunity cost" of having, in Boris Johnson, a mayor who had done nothing with power. She repeatedly used this term, highlighting the wasted opportunity that has now been lost.

When one strips away the history that inevitably comes with Ken and evaluates what he and King offer to London the offerings look quite similar. They both want to build more council housing. They both strongly support trade unions. They both want to invest in more and better transport infrastructure for a growing city. Unfortunately Ken doesn't demonstrate to me that he has learnt why he lost in 2008. I worry that with him as candidate Labour could lose next time because the media and his opponents will be able to tread over old ground. Ken's attitude last night was symptomatic of someone who thinks the office of mayor is in "stasis" and is waiting for him.

King offers the chance for a new discussion and an election based on the future and not the past. She also shows a detailed understanding of the issues facing the young in London, especially about crime and employment opportunities. I feel she is best placed to win votes for Labour in outer London especially in the places where Ken lost support or is simply unpalatable to those who remember the battles of the 1980s. Time for a change. Time for Oona.


Colm said...

Oona didn't do enough to convince me yesterday, so I am still erring on the side of Ken. She didn't inspire me, and I think majoring on knife crime is a big mistake.

Still, she has a while to win me over.

Hustings goer said...

Were we attending the same hustings meeting?

Oona seemed nice but utterly out of her depth. She sounded awkward and inarticulate a lot of the time: note her bizarre claim that Labour had only been in Government for 12 years of the 20th century; her misunderstanding that Labour had successfully got 50% of school leavers to university; and her apparent description of the Freedom Pass as a benefit targeted at poor pensioners.

She is indeed politicall attractive in some ways, but her attempts to portray Ken as the tainted loser were just embarassing. Ken did well at a very very difficult time for Labour. She is best known for losing a fairly safe Labour seat. Pot kettle black?

I went to the hustings undecided but quickly realised that Ken had the much surer command of the brief.

Whilst I vehemently disagree with Ken on some things, I think making Oona King the candidate would be too much of a risk for both Labour's chances and for London.

It's got to be Ken!