Teetering on the edge of the abyss….Labour in London.
As the dust settles on Labour’s hammering in Bradford West, it is clear that the race for the mayoralty of London has taken on an even greater significance. Even before Bradford West, London and the outcome of the Ken and Boris show was always going to have a defining significance. Now, however it could be a make-or-break election for the Labour Party and Ed Miliband’s stewardship of the Party. It may seem odd to say this given Labour’s recent poll spike but let’s be clear, you can have all the poll leads in China and still they are worthless if you are not winning the big elections.
The reason for the disparity between polling and actual results is that opinion polls are predicated on hypothetical scenario; if there were a General Election tomorrow. People can therefore say they will vote Labour merely as a means of showing they are royally ticked off with the government. It doesn’t mean they actually will go ahead and vote Labour. Election results are a concrete definite, they are based on what people actually did do, ie, how they voted and in this field our record is far from awe-inspiring. We lost in Scotland which was the first major defining electoral test of our real position in the country (by-elections definitely do not show this, if they did, based on Bradford West we would be heading for a Respect landslide). Neither do council elections which reflect a nebulous myriad of sentiment some of which has zilch to do with national politics. So, London is the next significant ‘big’ election and if Ken Livingstone loses that it will be a further indicator that were there to be a General Election tomorrow then we would actually lose.
Ken, in many regards is not helping himself or the Party. His refusal to show contrition over his tax shambles is maddening. It has more to do with pride than a sincere conviction he is in the right. I am not particularly interested in his lame excuses. Far from going away this issue will dog him right down to polling day and will be particularly effective in demoralising core Labour supporters. The tax mess is just an extreme example of his contraction of highly politically toxic foot-in-mouth syndrome which also appears to have the side-effect of a deeply unhelpful bunker mentality. He needs to be taken to a darkened room and told in no uncertain terms to get his house in order by the Party leadership; he must apologise for his tax shambles and start to engage his brain before opening his mouth.
Having said all that, Ken’s policy platform is actually a reasonably good one, something that makes his personal foibles even more frustrating. Personality weighs even heavier in a contest where the office being contested is an executive one with a heavy concentration on the individuals power and position and as things stand the largest barrier to Ken being re-elected is actually his personality – something that is lending effectiveness to the Conservative slogan of ‘Not Ken Again’. They will be pouring everything into London and not just because of the damage it will do Labour but also because keeping Boris Johnson in the Mayor’s office keeps him from being an even larger thorn in David Cameron’s side than he would be if he lost and managed to return to Westminster. Keep your friends closer and your enemies trapped in City Hall is the new Central Office motif of the Cameroons. Johnson also has taken some stances to the left of his own government which may woo Labour supporters who are not keen on Ken.
Labour is teetering on the edge of the electoral abyss in London; to lose after Bradford West would shatter Party moral and send the Party spiralling into open and bitter civil war. Now is the time for the leadership to get a grip, lead and take matters in hand. If it doesn’t then it will be it that ultimately suffers the consequences.