THE revolutionaries say that people compared Sadiq Khan nominating Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership with Tessa Jowell accepting a seat in the House of Lords and the choice, after the tone of the Corbyn Summer, was easy to make.
Khan’s victory in the race to be Labour’s mayoral candidate can’t be that simple to analyse, but somehow he managed to surf the swirling rebellion, flirting with the merry men.
As each day that passed in a contest overshadowed by what was going on with Corbyn, the cuffs tightened on Tessa’s attachment to a New Labour past and most symbolically, Tony Blair himself, while Khan, by actually not saying much at all, kept a foot in all camps.
It was spread that left-wingers must vote for him, as he was not too bad really and now the best chance of defeating Tessa’s noisy campaign, which was being granted reams of news copy and an endorsement from the Standard; her face thrust into your hand at every major tube station.
Khan was able to seduce members who you might have expected to have been definite Diane Abbott supporters. What he really feels about Corbyn may be unknown, but his victory was, at a superficial level, left beating right.
With a triumphalism which is unlikely to be forgotten by those wounded by the sight of Jowell’s welling eyes, there were declarations that Blairism was reaching its final breath, if it had any breath left at all. There are manic Labour members, the losers feel, who they see more intent on expelling every single remnant, every single link of Blair – I think the word is ‘purge’ – than mounting an immediate challenge to the Conservatives. And here, a long time in coming, is their chance moment to start again. The paranoid have it that anybody who once clapped a Tony Blair speech should now be feeling weak, and persecuted.
The majority of Khan, or Corbyn supporters, don’t have such napalm strategy in mind. But the Blairites, or ‘modernisers’ to use a more modern term, have just seen what they might have felt was a decent consolation prize, a Tessa mayoralty bid, in the event of a Corbyn victory this weekend, pulled away when the beat all summer had been that their runner was the favourite. All some of them can see in a weekend of high emotion is the Left running riot and what they say will be decades of opposition, rather than seeing the attempts at unity Khan may well bring. He hasn’t nationalised anything, he could still win them over.
Camden’s record on the matter of the mayoralty might be a clue as to how Khan’s offer is more complicated than simply grabbing the opportunity of the Corbyn summer to defeat Jowell. In Hampstead and Kilburn, members were so unmoved by Khan that they instead nominated David Lammy, whose whistling campaign never really flowered. This is a constituency which was a whisker away from nominating Corbyn for the leadership and has a hard love of the contrarian, yet it hardly gave Khan a glance. It’s a sign that not every north London lefty is convinced.
Amid Camden’s council group, there was also a lack of enthusiastic support for Khan. Big hitters like Sarah Hayward, the leader, and finance chief Theo Blackwell led good numbers behind Tessa, similarly to the way they have supported Liz Kendall on a campaign certain to end the same way. Nobody came out of the members room at the top of the Town Hall staircase for a gossip about how wonderful and fantastic Khan was. The new MP here, Tulip Siddiq, perhaps spared him the embarrassment of losing a nomination to Lammy by endorsing him herself.
And he was endorsed too by Keir Starmer, as the number of MPs on his side began to mount. This might have been a warning to Team Tessa that a shock result was possible; here the likes of Yvette Cooper supporter Emily Thornberry and advocates of Andy Burnham advocates, like Tulip and Keir, were behind the same placards as those who’ve pushed for Corbyn. Khan has stitched some form of coalition across fractured ranks, although again this may have been achieved by saying as little as possible – can you recall any roof-off speeches or policy zingers – while Jowell’s support was sucked from under her feet by the boon of Corbyn’s anti-austerity promises. Maybe it wasn’t wise to tell the Observer the other week that despite all these years they had both been members of parliament, she had hardly had a single conversation with this man of the moment.
Despite all the talk of favouritism, and are we ever to trust a political commentator’s analysis or pollster’s forecast again, Tessa, a former Camden councillor, was running against the grain. You can talk about the Olympics, but that spectacle is beginning to feel distant in straightened times.
There are Labour supporter who simply felt: Well done, you helped organise a big party three years ago and it was worth the zillion pounds because it was history… but right now we just got utterly spanked at a general election and in shorter terms, nobody has any money. The stadium is being kitted out for West Ham, the kids aren’t really do more sport and nobody has watched a rowing race, bar the universities, since 2012.
But there is another theory, which Khan supporters are not going to like, that the Labour Party is still struggling to elect women to the big jobs. Tessa couldn’t win, and Abbott couldn’t do a Corbyn. It’s food for thought, but the Khan team will say he has at least proved that another barrier has been crossed with the support shown to somebody who isn’t white. Yet if Corbyn, or Burnham, win tomorrow, and their deputy turns out to be Tom Watson, as predicted, the failure to appoint a woman will no longer sound like a sore loser’s lament.