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London 2008: the runners

September 1st, 2005

Will it be Ken Livingstone’s turn again?
London City Hall
I think the first comment I ever posted on this site concerned the London mayoral election last year. The winner was the hot favourite Ken Livingstone, but Mike Smithson was proved right in his prediction that Steve Norris would close the gap in the betting odds and polls as the campaign went on.

Some bets on the next-but-one election – in 2012 – are already available under the umbrella of William Hill‘s Olympic-themed markets. We covered these last week and thought 50/1 against Livingstone and 33/1 against the Conservative Lord Coe both looked like decent bets. But what we don’t have yet is a market on the next election in 2008.

The big question is whether Livingstone will stand again. Before his first election in 2000 he said that if he won, he would only serve one term. He didn’t – and hardly surprising: it’s not easy to imagine running London tiring him. Though he will be 63 at the time of the 2008 election, he may well wish to continue, and if he does then most Labour figures would consider it unwise to challenge him. Another Livingstone candidacy would be a tough challenge for the other parties: as a master of the media, his relaxed and informal image appeals outside the ranks of usual Labour voters. In the 2004 election, he polled 36.8% of first preference votes, compared to Labour’s 25.0% in the list section of the Greater London Assembly elections on the same day. As ever, his behaviour since 2004 has had its controversial moments, but this may well help his plain-speaking persona.

If Livingstone does step down, the battle for the Labour nomination will be an interesting one. One consequence of Livingstone’s media magnetism has been that the Greater London Assembly gets far less coverage than the Mayor, and Labour’s representatives there have little profile. That might see them edged out in favour of a London MP or another Labour figure such as Trevor Phillips, who went for the mayoral nomination in 2000, sat on the GLA from 2000–2003 and now chairs the Commission for Racial Equality.

On the Conservative side, the most mentioned name has been Olympic gold medallist, former MP and now peer Sebastian Coe, whose prominence has been renewed by leading London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics. As someone well known for achievements outside politics, he seems to have the potential to overcome the “tarnished brand” of the party. But does he want to stand? It’s questionable whether he would rather take on the struggles of a partisan role rather than gain more consensual recognition by continuing to work on the planning of the Olympics.

The Liberal Democrats have two ultimately quite disappointing campaigns to look back on. Susan Kramer (now MP for Richmond Park) was seen to have fought an intelligent campaign on policy in 2000; but despite her campaign featuring arguably Britain’s first political blog, the wider impact was weak and Kramer finished fourth with 11.9% of the first-preference vote. In 2004, the candidate was the much more prominent Simon Hughes – but the campaign, seeming this time to attack the Tories harder than it did the incumbent, disappointed and the result was 15.3% of the vote. In 2008, the strategy will be rethought, but sticking with an MP with a pre-existing public profile seems sensible. Possible contenders could be Hornsey and Wood Green MP Lynne Featherstone, who previously served on the GLA; or Carshalton and Wallington MP Tom Brake, surely a headline writer’s dream for a post in which transport policy figures strongly.

Bookies know what is coming next from me: give us a market!

Philip Grant
Guest editor

Mike Smithson is on holiday until 5th September.






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