Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Some thoughts on Ken Livingtone vs. Oona King

I haven't written as much about the Labour Mayoral selection contest as I might have done, mainly because it has always seemed a foregone conclusion.

Nobody, not even Oona King herself could seriously have thought that she could beat Ken Livingstone to the nomination.

Her candidacy always appeared to me a face-saving exercise from those who had spent the past two years briefing that they would take Ken on.

In the event none of them quite had the guts to do it and so it was left instead to Oona.

Now I've met Oona and she seems like a decent and likable person, but from the start her campaign has been remarkably lacklustre and wrong-headed.

Rather than demonstrate her ability to take on the current Conservative mayor, she has been determined to re-run the same campaign against Ken that Boris Johnson ran in 2008.

  • A call for term limits? Check.
  • Cronyism accusations? Check.
  • Support from Andrew Gilligan? Check.
  • Focus on knife and gang crime? Check.
  • Vague promises to outer London? Check
  • Promises for a "new tube line" on the Thames? Check.
  • A new type of impractical bus? Check.
  • Self-inflicted Freedom Pass controversy? Check

And yet despite being fully versed in the 2008 Mayoral campaign she seemed to have little knowledge of what the current Mayor has done, nor even a clear idea of his actual powers.

And for somebody who was so keen on comparing their youth and energy to Ken, it was never entirely clear what she was actually doing day to day.

Policy launches were few and far between as were media outlets willing to cover them.

Her initial big backers in the party were ill-used and she failed to capitalise on an early lead amongst London MPs.

In fact so off-the-ball was her campaign that one Labour Assembly Member claims they were not even contacted by Oona until well after they had already publicly nominated Ken.

And now after a long and uneventful campaign, the game is surely over, a fact that is clear in Oona's briefing to the Standard that she will run again if (when) she loses to Ken.

Which is interesting considering that one of her main lines of attack was that Ken could not win an election he had previously lost.

Of course if she is serious about running again then there is nothing stopping her standing for the London Assembly and building up four years of experience in the meantime.

When I suggested this to her a while back she told me that she enjoyed her job at Channel Four too much, which begged my question: "then why are you standing for Mayor?"

Ken's camp likes to claim that Oona only ran because she was put up to it by Peter Mandelson at some party or other.

Quite how apocryphal this story is I'm not sure, but it certainly plays into their main line of attack, that Oona is a Blairite stooge.

This is an attack that Oona has understandably tried to dispel by both backing Ed Miliband for leader and (quite ungratefully) failing to acknowledge Peter Mandelson's endorsement.

But the simple truth is that even if Oona had run a faultless campaign her chances against Ken were always slim for the simple reason that she simply hasn't got the profile to win.

Because whatever the merits of Oona as a politician (and she does have them) the fact is that Labour were highly unlikely to choose a candidate that the vast majority of Londoners hadn't even heard of.

Realisation of this has come in the past couple of weeks with the steady trickle of Labour right-wingers to the Ken camp.

Because while they may not like everything about Ken or his policies, they like losing even less, and a victory for Oona would have meant a certain loss in 2012.

Mayoral contests after all are mostly about profile and not policies.

Because while Boris has done little for London since being elected he has done plenty for himself, using the job as a daily opportunity to puff his feathers and catch the media's eye.

And while the Prime Minister has to face an opposite (and alternative) number every day, in City Hall the incumbent can go for years on end without having to compete for publicity at all.

In its current form, the London Mayoralty is as close to an elected dictatorship as it is possible to get, albeit a dictatorship with very limited powers.

Once in power it is incredibly hard for an opponent to unseat you, unless they have an even bigger and more persuasive profile than your own.

Boris managed it in 2008 through sheer force of personality, and he is understandably confident of retaining it in 2012.

But by choosing their candidate early, the Labour party hope that they can now share at least some of that profile in the final year and a half of Boris's term.

Of course I could be completely wrong and Oona King could be about to secure a famous and historic victory.

But whoever is announced as the winner in two days time, they're going to have a lot of work to do to in the run up to 2012.


Helen said... I was one of the London members denied a vote - I am furious.

AdamB said...

It sounds like it's pretty widespread then. Can you not vote online?

Chris said...

I'm just glad the whole thing's over.

AdamB said...

I have to admit Chris, there were points I thought it would never end.

Simon said...

To vote online you need a code which appears on the ballot paper. So you can't even vote online if you don't get your ballot paper in the post.

AdamB said...

Is there any way of finding out what scale the problem is? If it does turn out to be close then it would be pretty disastrous for Labour to have this hanging over the result - ditto the national leadership.

Marissa Jane said...

It was pretty well broadcast that if you hadnt received your ballot paper that you should contact Labour HQ. I have seen a couple of people that didnt get their papers initially but did when they brought it up.
I havent seen anything official that said Londoners had any more problems with their papers than the rest of the country.