Opinionist: And In The Red Corner…

ken wheel.jpeg
Picture courtesy of Annie Mole under a creative commons licence

Alan doesn’t want us, Jon doesn’t care, David has better things to do. The deadline for nominations is 5 o’clock and, unless someone is holding their cards phenomenally close to their chest, just two candidates have thrown their hats into the ring. Labour’s candidate for the 2012 mayoral election will be either Oona or Ken.

This, frankly, is disappointing. For one thing it’s fewer candidates than Labour managed 12 years ago. Back then it was in government, so there were other routes to preferment, and the party hierarchy already thought it had its man. In opposition, with the field wide open, you’d think they’d be jumping at the chance. Not a bit of it, though.

More importantly, it’s not the most inspiring choice the party could have offered us. Ken has his flaws (his incredible ability to get into a fight with Associated Newspapers, and still come out looking like the racist, is one that leaps instantly to mind). But he also did a lot of good things for this town.

That was then, though. In 2012 his first election as mayor will be nearly as far in the past as the abolition of the GLC had been then. It’ll be 31 years since he first erupted onto the London political scene. Half the electorate won’t even remember London before Ken. His return does rather suggest a shortage of talent.

And, whatever we may think of him, we’re aware that a lot of Londoners think otherwise. The 2008 election was as much an anti-Ken vote as a pro-Boris one.

What of Oona, then? She has an interesting personal narrative. She looks and feels like London in exactly the same way Boris looks and feels like Henley.

But she’s not exactly a big hitter. Tipped as a rising star back in 1997, she then failed spectacularly to rise, and her highest profile achievement was managing to lose her Westminster seat to George Galloway. The reason was her support for the invasion of Iraq. It’s a position she later recanted, but with Labour meant to be conducting a post-mortem on its 13 years in power, it’s one that may still come back to haunt her.

More to the point, she’s so far said or done little to explain why she should get the job. Of the two big policy differences that emerged at a recent hustings, one – a willingness to build on green belt land – looked like a vote loser. The other, which involved doing more to improve the education of white working class kids, was more interesting; but it would also require Tory schools ministers to hand control of key policy areas to their political enemies. That doesn’t seem very likely.

More policies and a stronger identity may yet emerge. So far, though, the only clear theme of King’s campaign so far has been “not being Ken.” It’s a start, but it’s not enough, and the bookies still have Ken as favourite to win the nomination a third time.

We don’t buy into the argument that because Boris beat Ken once, he’ll inevitably beat him again. Labour look stronger in London than elsewhere, and for all his outsider reputation, Boris still seems likely to feel at least some sort of backlash as Tory cuts start to bite. Ken may manage a comeback.

But after 31 years dominating London’s political scene, there is a strong case that it’s time for some fresh blood. And Oona King, whose most famous achievements to date have been to back an illegal war and to lose, currently doesn’t look like she’s it.

That may be good for Boris. It may not be good for London.

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Jonn

Article by Jonn Elledge | 94 Articles | View Profile

  • http://undefined jamesu

    Very nice post Jonn.

    I still tear up with my dream of Mayor Adonis running the railways with a geek’s passion… sadly not to be.

  • http://undefined Kingpin

    London’s better off without Ken, he’s in a world of denial having another go and seeming to ignore the public’s obvious “bugger off” to Livingstone.