One claim repeatedly made about the mayoral election is that a defeat for Ken Livingstone would be a major blow for Gordon Brown. I don’t quite follow this. Throughout his political career, and particularly since 2000, Ken has made a virtue of his political independence—he successfully ran as an independent against the Labour candidate Frank Dobson in 2000, of course, and although he’s since returned to the Labour bosom, the imperatives of party loyalty seem to exert little hold on him. Most importantly, the mayoral election doesn’t feel like a choice between parties, it feels like a choice between candidates, or even personalities (something that tends to happen in mayoral elections; one reason why England could do with more of them, as Guy Lodge argues in Prospect). If Ken wins today, it will feel like a victory for Ken and not for Labour, and, mutatis mutandis, if he loses there’s no reason for Gordon Brown to feel slighted.
The difference, I suppose, is that while those of us in London who have been following the campaign see a ready distinction between candidates and parties, it may not look like that outside the M25. And if a defeat for Ken is coupled with, as expected, heavy losses for Labour in the local elections, the cumulative effect will be all the more powerful. Some even think it could lead to a demand for a change of leadership among Labour MPs worried about losing their jobs come the next general election.
If Gordon Brown is unseated, he’ll find it difficult to avoid going down in history as the second Anthony Eden—a second-rate prime minister who toiled for years in the shadow of a successful and charismatic prime minister, patiently awaiting the opportunity to take over. Eden, of course, fled to Ian Fleming’s Caribbean hideaway “Goldeneye” when his health collapsed in the wake of the Suez debacle. But Brown (unlike his predecessor) lacks celebrity friends with luxury foreign boltholes. So here’s a suggestion, courtesy of my friend Zack. The “Gordon Brown Building” in Montreal (see below) seems perfect for the prime minister—solid, functional and, if a little dour, utterly without pretence.