One of the sad aspects of Labour’s farcical London mayoral selection contest, argues BERNARD HUGHES, is how the leadership is turning even some of its closest friends into foes.
When Glenda Jackson announced on 19 January that she would ballot her constituency party on how she should cast her second vote in the London mayoral selection, she knew in effect she was announcing her support for Ken Livingstone. This decision did not change the result – though it was a close thing – yet is notable mostly as an example of the Labour leadership’s ability to alienate even its strongest supporters through its clumsy machinations.
Last summer, when Jackson announced her candidature, her support for Livingstone would have been inconceivable. She was firmly in the government mainstream, having served two years as a transport minister before leaving her job on good terms to stand as a candidate for mayor, apparently on the encouragement of traditional sources close to Tony Blair.
The first feathers were ruffled when, three months after this apparent support, an inept attempt on the part of the leadership to persuade her to stand down in favour of Frank Dobson was met with a terse response that the party machine should back off.
But this should not have been enough to push Jackson within miles of Livingstone, and all the wise money would have been on her backing Dobson, rather than the Brent MP, if she suffered defeat. After all, there was only one serious issue dividing the candidates. This was the government’s plans for a public-private partnership (PPP) – in effect a partial privatisation – for the London Underground. And while Livingstone had made his opposition to PPP the main plank of his campaign, Jackson was firmly in favour.
Paradoxically, this division may have been the very thing that brought Jackson close to Livingstone. In the early days of the selection campaign, Frank Dobson became known as the invisible candidate as local Labour parties and affiliated unions organised meetings where the three Labour contenders could debate – and Dobson was never to be seen. It was left to Jackson to defend the government’s record and its policy for the Underground – often to hostile audiences of disgruntled members.
Jackson’s reward for her loyalty to the leadership is well-recorded. It was to be shut out of the deals that gave Dobson privileged access to membership lists, and to be the victim, along with Livingstone, of the electoral arrangements apparently made up on the fly to favour Dobson. As announcement after announcement on the latest farcical example of manipulation was made, the Livingstone-Jackson double-act started to change its script. Instead of their divisions on the Underground being the main feature, their joint protests at the conduct of the campaign became the common refrain.
When Jackson finally announced on 8 February that her second-choice vote would go to Livingstone, a spokesperson for Dobson commented sourly on this latest episode in their collaboration. Perhaps he could have considered how this unlikely collaboration came about, and whether it has any echoes in Labour’s poor electoral performances elsewhere.
It seems that it doesn’t matter whether you agree with the leadership on policy and work hard to promote their interests – you can still be the enemy from their point of view. And to ensure that this is true, they will drive you into the enemy camp if necessary.