Don Brind on the day the CON Mayoral candidate will be announced
â€œSadiq. Wowâ€ said the text message that came in as I was walking down an Italian hillside. It alerted me to the fact that Sadiq Khan had won the Labour London Mayoral selection by a decisive margin.
The friend who sent it knew I was heavily invested in Khan stocks. Not only is he my local MP â€“ and a brilliant one too â€“ but no less than six years ago I had called for him to be Labourâ€™s mayoral candidate in place of Ken Livingstone.
Livingstone had been a very effective Mayor but his defence of the job in the 2008 election was woeful. As a member of the partyâ€™s media team I looked on as he failed to nail Boris Johnsonâ€™s weaknesses. My article suggested that for the 2012 election Labour should pick an ethnic minority candidate to reflect the capitalâ€™s diversity. My journalism ensured that I wasnâ€™t invited to rejoin the media team. Ken duly lost.
This time round the former Mayor gave his blessing to Khan in preference to Diane Abbott. Khan had nominated Corbyn to get him into the race but â€“ unlike Abbott — he didnâ€™t vote for him. Abbott came in third and it was the transfer of votes from her to Khan that took him past Tessa Jowell.
Thus Khan was the main beneficiary of the Corbyn surge in London.
In his role as elder statesman of the Corbynistas Livingstone has, in my view, made a shrewd judgement in backing Khan. Labour victory in London next year is vital for Corbyn. Defeat in the partyâ€™s strongest region would cement the widely held view — at Westminster and amongst longstanding members — that their leader is unelectable and that with him defeat in 2020 is inevitable.
A Khan victory would hush the doubters. And on the face of it he ought to win. He was the partyâ€™s campaign chief in the capital in 2014 when Labour gained ground in both the European and borough elections and in the General election in May.
But the Mayoral election involves a different challenge. Under the Supplementary Vote voters can indicate a first and second preference. In May there were 1.5 million Labour voters. The Tories trailed by 300,00 with 1.2 million. That gave Labour 45 of the capitals 73 seats. But there 285,000 Ukip voters, 270,000 Lib Dems and 170,000 Greens. Next year the hunt for second preferences amongst supporters of the also-rans will be fascinating.
Khan has made it clear he knows it wonâ€™t a â€œshoo inâ€. He plans to make the election a referendum on Londonâ€™s housing crisis. He promises to be a green Mayor and a business friendly Mayor. The environmentalist Euro sceptic Zac Goldsmith is not an indentikit Tory.
But as well as policies election are about the candidatesâ€™ characters and life stories. I think this will give Khan the edge.
Am I biased? Just a bit. I was the chair of governors at Ernest Bevin school Tooting in the 80s when we appointed the first Muslim head of a London school. That head, Naz Bokhari, became a role model and mentor for the young Sadiq, the son of a bus driver who had migrated from Pakistan. Goldsmith, of course, is an old Etonian, who inherited millions from his financial wheeler-dealing father.
Khan will highlight that contrast but he will be careful to make it a story about aspiration and opportunity rather than about class. He hopes his personal narrative — of working hard, getting to university on his merits, running a law firm employing 50 people and then becoming MP for his home patch — will resonate with the ambitions of Londoners for themselves and their families. And crucially, he will take every opportunity to underline that he is his own man, independent of the new Labour leader.
He is likely to be ruthlessly hard-headed in involving the Jeremy Corbyn in his campaign only where his impact will be positive.
The negatives that stem from having a a leader who celebrates his own authenticity whatever problems it causes for his colleagues was demonstrated by the wholly unnecessary row over Trident. It overshadowed Khanâ€™s speech, as well as excellent final morning speeches by the Shadow Justice Secretary Lord Falconer, the Health team Luciana Berger and Heidi Alexander, Shadow Education Secretary Lucy Powell and deputy leader Tom Watson. Taken together they were a demonstration that Corbyn has established a â€œbig tentâ€ with a team that is more united and ready to take on the Tories than many had feared.
During his own speech Corbyn got the loudest appluase for his attack on cyber bullying: â€œI want a kinder politics, a more caring society. Donâ€™t let them reduce you to believing in anything less. So I say to all activists, whether Labour or not, cut out the personal attacks. The cyberbullying. And especially the misogynistic abuse online. And letâ€™s get on with bringing values back into politics.â€
To his supporters who are looking for a fight, the leaderâ€™s message was: Not In My Name. It needed saying.