The left needs to unite behind Sadiq Khan for London mayor

khan-corbynJudged objectively, ignoring the wall of hostile noise from a partisan media and disloyalty from a few self-promoting MPs, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour Party over the last several months has proven a success.

He has put together a shadow cabinet that reflects talents across the party. His support base in the Parliamentary Labour Party has broadened, his performances at PMQs and on TV have become increasingly assured, the rebellion over Syria was confined to the usual suspects, and the Oldham by-election was convincingly won, seeing off a perceived challenge from UKIP. It is worth reflecting upon the non-appearance of the UKIP threat in Oldham, because the false prediction by the 4.5%ers was based upon their political misunderstanding of the electorate.

John McDonnell as shadow chancellor has performed well, and Labour has shifted towards a coherent and credible anti-austerity economic stance. While the Conservative Party is divided over Europe, the Labour Party is overwhelmingly united, and relations between the majority who wish to remain and the minority who wish to leave are cordial.

Nevertheless, whoever had taken over the leadership of the party would have had a hill to climb. Across Britain, the Conservatives had a 6% lead over Labour at last year’s General Election, including a collapse of the vote in Scotland to just 24.3%, down 17.7% on 2010. The party paid a high price for failing to defend the record of the last Labour government, and paradoxically it seemed like it was often the left that was most prepared to defend the progressive legacy of the Blair and Brown years.

In May, Labour will face a number of electoral tests. In particular, the local government elections in England, as well as the London mayoral elections, London Assembly, Scottish Parliament and the Senedd.

It is therefore necessary to judge Labour’s performance by a realistic benchmark. In English local authorities Labour will be defending seats last contested in 2012, when Labour had a 6% lead over the Conservatives in the national polls, and the coalition government was at its lowest ebb. Electoral politics is cruel, and it is highly likely that some hard working and capable Labour councilors will lose their seats this year, though the results will be hard to predict where the Lib Dems have historically has a strong local presence, which may create considerable local variance from national trends.

It is almost inevitable that the results will be maliciously misrepresented, where Labour does well this will be reported as being despite Corbyn, and where Labour suffers, the blame will be put on the leader.

The key will by London. Some on the left are not enamoured by Sadiq Khan, and may be inclined to support George Galloway. Now I like and respect George. I don’t agree with everything he says and does, but he makes valuable contribution to British democracy because over a number of issues he has been prepared to break from the social consensus, while remaining broadly within the envelope of labourist politics. As George Galloway himself pointed out before the US Senate, over a number of issues the mainstream political consensus has been wrong, and George has been proven right.

George’s expulsion from the Labour Party was, in my view, an injustice, and it is important that the Labour Party’s adherence to the rulebook should be impartial, so that if George at some point satisfies the conditions for readmission, then personal animosity against him from some quarters should not be allowed to colour the decision.

Nevertheless I think that George is making a political mistake by standing against Sadiq. Firstly, there is frankly no prospect of building a coherent electoral space to the left of the Labour Party at the moment, and therefore George’s candidacy is individualistic. But secondly, and more importantly, Sadiq is actually a good candidate that the left should support.

Sadiq Khan has his own strong mandate having been directly voted for by Labour Party members in London to be the candidate. He comes from a working class background, he is a hard working, intelligent and compassionate MP; and he is well liked by the trade unions. One of the strengths of Sadiq is that he has a reputation for simply delivering on his promises, and working behind the scenes in support of his constituents, and for trade union members.

There is no guarantee that Labour can win the London mayoral election, but we do need to make a strong showing; and the party and the broader labour movement does need to unite behind the Labour candidate, to consolidate the gains we have made.

24 comments on “The left needs to unite behind Sadiq Khan for London mayor

  1. John: Just to say here though that I am disappointed to see you describe GG’s campaign as individualistic

    Well clearly it is the Labour Party and not George that is to blame for the fact that he has been excluded from pursuing his political projects through the party, and in the contested arena of electoral politics, that has necessarily meant that George has had to oppose Labour, and as politics is a rough and tumble game, there have been bruises.

    Had Galloway not been expelled from the party, I am sure that he would have continued to ably apply himself as a Labour MP, broadly within the collective discipline of the party and the wider movement. Once he was expelled, because he was not prepared to fade quietly into the night, he contested against the party, and for some party loyalists that is unforgivable, and they will unjustly accuse him of individualism.

    However, more broadly we have to judge any political initiative on the range of possible outcomes and the likelihood of those outcomes being advantageous or disadvantageous to the movement as a whole., and sometimes perhaps to the interests of the left within the movement.

    In this particular political conjuncture, the interests of the broader movement and the interests of the left within hat broader movement are the same, that the best outcome is a convincing victory for Sadiq over the Conservatives, for a number of reasons. i) it will show that Labour can win under Corbyn, ii) it will show that under Corbyn the party remains a broad church that embraces a diversity of political views; iii) it shows the left observing discipline to secure the victory of a Labour candidate that some find problematic; iv) it strategically strengthens the bonds between the Corbyn supporting left and the more Corbyn-sceptic centre left, including many in the unions. v) Khan will actually be a good Labour mayor.

    Those are all strong positives.

    I won’t dwell on possible downsides of George’s challenge,but one of them is that it does further complicate the issue of trying to get the injustice of his expulsion addressed.

    But what are the range of possible outcomes, how likely are they, and what would be the impact.

    George’s candidacy is bound to seek to push apart Corbyn and Khan, which is not in the interests of the left, when we should be seeking to build bridges. The likelihood of George winning is a lot less than the chances of George taking just enough votes off of Labour to allow the Conservatives to win. That would be a possibly disastrous outcome for Corbyn.

    And given that Corbyn is leader of the party,and that the Labour Party, in England at least, is surely the only game in town, then there is no prospect of Galloway’s candidacy helping to strengthen the left organisationally and politically, it can only weaken it. In that limited sense it is a misjudgement that is based upon the individual dynamic of Galloway’s own political standing and practice rather than collectivism of the wider movement.

  2. jock mctrousers on said:

    Andy Newman: George’s candidacy is bound to seek to push apart Corbyn and Khan, which is not in the interests of the left, when we should be seeking to build bridges.

    Sorry, no! We should NOT be trying to build bridges to the likes of Khan. The only terms the right will accept is unconditional surrender. We should be trying to purge them from the party, just as the press claim of Momentum.

    There are difficulties with that obviously, the glaringly obvious one being that there’s no-one to replace the right with yet, and it’s going to be a long slog, and not even a guaranteed victory, to retake the constituency and party

    And Jeremy’s obliged to support Khan, obviously. And, to be fair, Khan has showed some willingness to play ball – considerably. toned down his ‘reservations’ about Jeremy, and got with the program to an extent…

    But a victory, or even a decent showing for Galloway, is a victory fot the left (and for Corbyn ultimately); a victory for Khan is a victory for the right. Just as mayor, I don’t see much to choose between Khan and wotsisname, the posh Tory guy.

  3. This is politics, not a morality play. The question is: would the political benefits of having George Galloway back in the Labour Party (whatever they might be) outweigh the political costs of trying to readmit him?

  4. Francis King: The question is: would the political benefits of having George Galloway back in the Labour Party (whatever they might be) outweigh the political costs of trying to readmit him?

    No, not true. The question is one of justice. It’s about doing what must be done not what is easier or more expedient. As I said, justice for Iraq demands Galloway’s expulsion is rescinded and now. His readmittance to the Labour Party is an entirely separate matter.

  5. John,

    No John. Politics is much more contingent and mediated process than that.

    It is very much a judgement call of fighting the battles you can win or those you cannot avoid.

    Especially given George’s declared intention to stand against Khan. But probably whether he had done so or not, the balance of forces are simply unfavourable for the left to voluntarily take up the issue of George’s remission.

  6. Andy Newman: Politics is much more contingent and mediated process than that.

    I’m sorry, Andy, I really don’t think it is. This again makes a virtue of the accomplished fact as the basis of your politics and praxis, rather than working to alter or change those facts in pursuit of iedologically driven objectives.

    Andy Newman: It is very much a judgement call of fighting the battles you can win or those you cannot avoid.

    It’s about fighting the battles you must win and can’t afford to avoid, I think. George’s expulsion being rescinded is right on both counts.

    Andy Newman: the balance of forces are simply unfavourable for the left to voluntarily take up the issue of George’s remission.

    Perhaps, but this is no reason not to put it to the test. We both know why Jeremy has refrained from doing so. It is to do with other issues that have arisen concerning GG since his expulsion. But using this as justification for failing to right the expulsion is wrong, I believe, and reveals weakness rather than strength.

  7. Andy Newman on said:

    John: It’s about fighting the battles you must win and can’t afford to avoid, I think. George’s expulsion being rescinded is right on both counts.

    Well this is the crux of the disagreement between us. However much of an injustice it might be, and however justifiable George might be in feeling aggrieved, the more than a decade old issue of his expulsion from the Labour Party is not a pressing political issue, even within the labour movement, let alone with the wider electorate.

    John: This again makes a virtue of the accomplished fact as the basis of your politics and praxis, rather than working to alter or change those facts in pursuit of ideologically driven objectives

    No, it means a recognition that you can only change the established facts where you have something more persuasive than words alone in your armoury.

    The relationship between words and actions was well described by Stokely Carmichael, when Minister of Information for the Black Panther Party.

    “If a white man wants to lynch me, that is his problem. If a white man wants to lynch me and has the power to do so then it is my problem”

    Or more prosaically, Jack Jones was asked why his union, TGWU, did not fight within the Labour Party for unilateral nuclear disarmament, despite it being union policy. “There is no army behind it” replied Jones.

    Every fight you have contains within it not only the prospect of victory, but also the prospect of defeat, and every fight engaged upon will change the strength and composition of your own forces. This is what the ultra left fails to understand with relation to trade unionism. Don’t talk up what you can’t deliver, and always be aware that a fight will test your own organisation in ways you may not have predicted.

    There is no doubt that raising the issue of Galloway’s expulsion would test some of the alliances and relationships even among Jeremy’s supporters in the party. It would also come at a cost as Corbyn’s detractors would use it as a stick to beat him. It simply is a fight best postponed to another day.

  8. Andy Newman: It simply is a fight best postponed to another day.

    That’s easy to say when you are not on the receiving end of that injustice. GG is not obliged to step aside to make way for a candidate of a party whose politics are rank rotten, led by a man who refuses to stand up for a comrade in the antiwar movement who stood alongside him in the struggle against it.

    Jeremy may well hold some personal animosity towards George, I don’t know, but right is right, and in the interests of justice GG should not have been allowed to dangle as he has by Corbyn.

    So if George takes votes from Khan then Jeremy only has himself to blame. Two can play at that game.

  9. Andy Newman on said:

    John: So if George takes votes from Khan then Jeremy only has himself to blame. Two can play at that game.

    Well you are not doing the case that this is not “individualism” much good here.

    I like George. I like Jeremy.

    The issue however is not what is good or fair for them as individuals, but what is best for the movement as a whole, and how we seek to advance.

  10. With all due respect, the mayoral election allows you, if that is your desire, to vote both for George Galloway and Sadiq Khan. As I don’t share Andy’s view of Khan as a potentially good though anti-communist mayor, I am less likely to bother to vote for him if Galloway wasn’t standing. Galloway can therefore potentially boost Khan’s vote and there’s no reason to believe he will diminish it. My fear is rather that people who do not appreciate you can vote for both will reluctantly vote for Khan rather than Galloway our of loyalty to Corbyn.

  11. Andy Newman: Well you are not doing the case that this is not “individualism” much good here.

    This statement obliges you to deal with my previous question re Ken Livingstone’s campaign for Mayor of London as an independent? Was Ken guilty of being indvidualistic in standing against the then Labour candidate, Frank Dobson?

    I think George standing is necessary given his record as a strong advocate of wealth redistribution, social justice, and against apartheid and war.

    Can Khan be considered in the same category?

  12. I’ve no doubt that Sadiq Khan is “anti-communist” but my post above should have said “anti-Corbyn”. I personally cannot see Zac Goldsmith winning the mayoral election. The Tories are unpopular in London and Goldsmith doesn’t have any of Boris Johnson’s “charisma” to overcome it. Of course, were Khan to lose, blame would be laid at Jeremy Corbyn’s feet. Combined with what are bound to be very bad results in Scotland and poor ones in the council elections, this may be the trigger for the attempted coup that has been much canvassed in the media. Certainly it would be destabilising for his leadership. On the other hand, a Khan victory will not much benefit Corbyn, other than to avoid the destabilisation of defeat. Corbyn’s enemies, Khan included, will all claim Khan won because he distanced himself as much as he could from Corbyn. The fact is that if you want to vote for Corbyn’s politics, you should cast your first vote for George Galloway. You can then give Khan your second vote to ensure, one way or another, Goldsmith is defeated. John is also right. George Galloway was unjustly expelled from the Labour Party. That is an injustice one would hope a Corbyn – led Labour Party would be seeking to rectify.

  13. Andy H on said:

    Rob:
    I personally cannot see Zac Goldsmith winning the mayoral election. The Tories are unpopular in London and Goldsmith doesn’t have any of Boris Johnson’s “charisma” to overcome it.

    Looking at the previous 2 mayoral elections and the 2015 general election results, the Tories are not that unpopular in London. The suburbs have large numbers of tory voters and a low turnout would help Goldsmith much more than Khan or Galloway.

    I’d be surprised if Goldsmith wins, but I seem to remember being similarly surprised when Ken Livingston lost in 2008, and I seem to remember that a large part of that was Ken forgot outer London existed. I was living in the borough of Harrow at the time and I remember the real local annoyance that he barely bothered to mention the borough let alone visit outside of election time.

  14. Well, neither of us is a psephologist Andy and psephologists don’t seem very good at predicting election results anyway. Certainly Sadiq could not be accused of not playing, some might even say pandering, to the Tory suburbs. The fact remains voters can vote for both George and Sadiq and voters on the left understandably not enthused by Sadiq’s campaign may turn out to give him their second vote because they are enthused to vote by George’s.

  15. No harm will come from people voting for George Galloway and his unrivalled ability to stir things up could well put some pressure on Khan. I hope Labour wins the London mayoral election. On his present form, Khan is unlikely to challenge the pro-big business, City-centric political culture of the capital. But defeating the Tories is an essential early step in changing the way local government is run in London.

    In preferential voting systems like the London mayoral people can vote in the French way, with heart in the first round and head in the second. Assembling a ‘popular majority’ that can be mobilised to sustain a new regime in City Hall depends on being credible to all those who vote for an alternative ‘progressive’ candidate in the first round. These are the people who will want their expectations met by the new mayor and in their overwhelming majority they come from London’s legions of the dispossessed and precarious – a category that nowadays includes millions of people including the middle class strata who make up a big proportion of London’s voters.

    The main base of London Labour’s right wing is in local government in the safer-for-Labour London boroughs and councils are the breeding ground for opportunists on the make. (I remember one Tony Blair – before he was elected to parliament, turning up to a Wandsworth event with a CND badge pinned to his lapel).

    Khan tacked to the left to beat Tessa Jowell for the nomination and now he is tacking to the right. That’s opportunism in action. The important thing is to challenge the balance of power and influence in the party, the councils and City Hall. It this does change I expect a miraculous transformation will come over Khan.

  16. I don’t really like him very much. He seems to shift his position when it suits him. However, a win for him would help strengthen Corbyn’s position within the Labour Party. On that basis, I hope he wins.

  17. “Tony Blair – before he was elected to parliament, turning up to a Wandsworth event with a CND badge pinned to his lapel”.

    I tend not to trust such people who wear CND badges.
    The people who are really sound on this issue tend not to wear them, I find.

  18. Jimmy Haddow on said:

    Lack of strategy and exclusions threaten Momentum: Instead of readying the troops for future battles, unfortunately, the leadership of Momentum when faced with attacks chose to abandon the call for re-selection and attacked the Socialist Party for raising it. The primary task for the left is to mobilise the millions who could be drawn to a militant anti-austerity banner and the building of a political organisation that can give it a voice. The Momentum leadership’s decisions show it is not at all prepared for this struggle.

    http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/888/22197/10-02-2016/lack-of-strategy-and-exclusions-threaten-momentum

  19. Jimmy Haddow: The primary task for the left is to mobilise the millions who could be drawn to a militant anti-austerity banner and the building of a political organisation that can give it a voice.

    blah blah blah blah

  20. Jimmy Haddow,

    I clicked on the link: Socialist Party members have found interest and enthusiasm for the strategy of fighting council cuts – by calling on Corbynista councillors to fight for no-cuts budgets and refuse to pass on Tory austerity. We will continue to put forward such a strategy, in Momentum meetings and elsewhere. If Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Momentum were pursuing this energetically it would bring millions [my emphasis] of people to the party as fighters.

    Can you be more specific. How many millions are we talking about here? Three million? Five Million? 10 million? I’m quite excited about this, and it got me thinking about what a brilliant way this is to build the party locally.

    Say, that as a result of this cunning plan, we recruit just a modest five million new fighters nationally. That would mean around 8,000 new fighters in my constituency alone, and a hundred on my own street!

    And all I’ve got to do is to energetically ask the three or four Corbynista councillors on the council to vote for no cuts!

    Thank you for these strategic insights, Jimmy.

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  22. SMALL EARTHQUAKE IN LAMBETH: ONE COPY SOLD!

    We explained that far from Militant, Momentum risks becoming ‘Miliband 2.0’ – allegedly anti-austerity, but in practice a tool for the Blairites. In truth, attacks by the discredited Tory press will improve our standing among workers and young people.

    A session on how to support right-wing London mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan also turned into a debate after we spoke. Why not use Momentum’s potential activist base as a bargaining chip to lobby Khan on Momentum policy? We did not win most of the attendees to these ideas. But a silent minority of young people, new to politics, listened intently. One bought the Socialist. We will be back.

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