Gareth Thomas, shadow Europe minister and chair of the Co-op Party, has now thrown his hat into the ring to be London’s next mayor. In doing so, he talked up London as almost a quasi-nation, essentially saying that it should have as much devolved power as Scotland.
The race to be the Labour candidate for London’s next mayoral election is becoming a crowded field. Diane Abbott, Tessa Jowell, David Lammy; Sadiq Khan has resigned from the shadow cabinet in order to take part. The reason so many Labour heavy hitters have moved into this space is rather obvious: it’s the only position of genuine power anyone within the party can reasonably aspire to inside of the next decade. Particularly now that Ken Livingstone has said he won’t run and Boris is out, thus gifting Labour at least five points straight off. It’s worth remembering that even BoJo barely scraped it last time out, and that was when he ran against someone who openly thinks Venezuela is the ideal nation state. London remains a Labour town, at least for now.
It is worth noting at this stage that the London mayoralty is certainly not in the bag for Labour post-May 2016 in spite of this. Should the Tories run someone like Zac Goldsmith in the end, they could give Labour a run for their money. However, like I said, it really would be disaster for the Labour Party if they couldn’t regain what is fast becoming their one, true heartland.
Which is of course, the biggest problem they face as a party. Gareth Thomas’ comments about London needing powers on par with one of the nations will not go down well in Scotland, or northern England, or Wales – in other words, all of their battle zones outside of the capital. I agree with most of what Gareth said, by the way. Metropolitan London is actually a lot bigger in terms of population than Scotland, never mind Wales, and is a very different place from the rest of Britain in terms of values, outlook, economy, lifestyle. However, that being fact isn’t going to stop a lot of the people Burnham is trying to target in other parts of the country with his red-UKIP-lite stuff being annoyed when Labour’s largest personalities, their most talented politicians, spend the next eleven months talking up the Big Smoke.
It puts into focus Labour’s current dilemma beautifully: do they try and hold on to London and perhaps the core urban vote throughout Britain by being pro-immigration, pro-free enterprise, socially modern – in other words, liberal? Or do they focus on an old school, socially conservative, parochial message designed to help them hold on to the parts of the north and Wales threatened by nationalist parties? This will be the major battleground upon which Labour wages its internal war over the coming years. What happens on May 5th, 2016 in London could have an interesting effect on who ultimately wins.