Thursday, 26 August 2010

Labour elections: different leader; same mayor

In the course of a Twitter debate a few days ago, a volunteer on David Miliband’s campaign who is backing Ken Livingstone for Mayor became involved in an exchange with some of those supporting Ken’s rival for the London nomination.

The argument of some during the debate was that if you were supporting David Miliband for the leadership, you could not possibly support Ken Livingstone to run for Mayor.

But the reality is many David Miliband supporters are also backing Ken. One of Ken’s earliest endorsers was Virendra Sharma MP, who has also backed David Miliband. Yesterday Jon Cruddas became another high profile example. Four of the five Labour London Assembly members who are backing David Miliband (including me) are also backing Ken.

Ken’s campaign is seeking to unite the London Labour party and welcomes support from the supporters of all the leadership candidates. Devolved politics means different alliances for different reasons are formed – and in London the dynamic is clearly towards a broad degree of unity around Ken Livingstone’s candidacy.

Hence, just as many David Miliband supporters also back Ken, so Ken’s campaign has received backing from supporters of all the other leadership campaigns.

Just last week I was telephone canvassing with Ken’s team and found myself amongst Andy Burnham supporters, Diane Abbot supporters, those backing either of the Eds, David Miliband, and even an ex-Lib Dem crossing off the days since he left the party – all campaigning for Ken, and many under 20.

They are our future in Labour and it was great to be part of debates and conversations all from different political perspectives about the direction we are heading.

These party members are not going to be bullied into making decisions based on old tribal loyalties of the past. In the mayoral contest, and the leadership contest, members are taking a hard look at all the candidates and coming to a rational, considered view on who is best for Labour.

The political zealots – the “Labour Party Taliban” – who seek to play the tired, divisive game of internal politicking that has overshadowed much of our recent and not so recent history are, I think, in for a shock. The majority of party members, certainly the ones I have been campaigning alongside, just do not want to go there and neither does the wider electorate.

I remain on good terms with colleagues and friends who do not share my views or my support for this candidate or that – and that’s how it should be. In the coming months and years the broad church of Labour will need to come together to defeat our real opponents. We should not be wasting time and energy with factional, internal battles.

Nationally and in London we need to retain, and in some cases regain, support from all sections of society. In London we have a good base on which to build: the last local elections saw Labour make exceptional gains in both inner and outer London and, despite some losses, we made gains in the last GLA and European elections.

But in the changed political landscape we will be fighting on different political territory. We must seek to limit the Coalition’s term in office and to do so we need strong, experienced leaders who recognise the reality we face. Both in London and nationally this means someone who can articulate a clear and unambiguous message for Labour.

That’s why I am supporting Ken Livingstone to win back the mayoralty and David Miliband to defeat the Coalition government. There is no contradiction between the two and only unreconstructed tribalists will try to suggest otherwise.