Why Tessa Jowell is Labour's best choice for London Mayor

The former Olympics minister scores best among non-Labour voters

June 15, 2015
Tessa Jowell (left) commands broad, cross-party support. ©  Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/Press Association Images
Tessa Jowell (left) commands broad, cross-party support. © Stefan Rousseau/PA Archive/Press Association Images

Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London should be a shoo-in next year. London is now a Labour city, and, relative to the rest of Britain, getting more so. However, things aren’t that simple: if they were, Boris Johnson would not have been elected Mayor twice, in 2008 and 2012.

Let’s start with the underlying arithmetic. In terms of the Britain-wide popular vote, the Conservative victories over Labour in 1992 and last month were comparable: a 7.6 point lead in 1992, compared with a 6.5 point lead last month. However, London’s story is different: an 8.2 point Conservative lead in 1992, compared with an 8.8 point Labour lead last month. In 23 years, the net swing across Great Britain was negligible—while in London it was as much as 8.5 per cent to Labour.

Despite this Labour has won the Mayoralty only once. Ken Livingstone won as an Independent in 2000, was re-elected as Labour candidate in 2004, then lost twice to Boris. In 2012, Boris’s narrow victory contrasted with Labour’s comfortable victory on the same day in elections to the Greater London Assembly. Boris had a cross-party appeal that Livingstone used to enjoy but which has faded in recent years. What, then, are Labour’s chances this time?

In a special survey conducted last week for Prospect, YouGov has tested the appeal of its four best-known potential candidates—David Lammy, Tessa Jowell, Sadiq Khan and Diane Abbott. We asked people in each case whether they would make a good mayor or a bad mayor. The first point to make is that the four are still not that well known. For each contender, the largest number reply was: “I don’t know enough about them to say”. Among Londoners as a whole, the figure ranged from 36 per cent for Diane Abbott to 56 per cent for both David Lammy and Sadiq Khan. The “don’t know enough” figures among Labour voters are smaller, but still considerable. That said, Tessa Jowell has comfortably the best scores. 30 per cent say she would make a good mayor, while 15 per cent say she would make a bad mayor—a net score of +15. The net scores of the other three are: Lammy plus 5, Khan plus 4, Abbott minus 12.

In net terms, Labour voters have a positive view of all four, with figures ranging from +3 (Abbott) to +33 (Jowell). However, the really telling numbers are those for the supporters of other parties. Jowell scores +3 among Conservatives, compared with Lammy (minus 9), Khan (minus 15) and Abbott (minus 32). Jowell is also better liked than her rivals among the smaller number of Lib Dem and Ukip voters.

In short, Jowell currently reaches parts of the London electorate that the other three struggle to win over. And given the way Londoners have voted in the past, this could be a key advantage. If Labour chooses another candidate, they will have a lot of cross-party ground to make up. Given the large number of voters who admit their lack of knowledge, they will have some time to do this; but they should not underestimate the scale of the challenge they would face.

Explore the data:% saying each candidate would make a good mayor, by party:

% saying they don't know enough about each candidate to judge:

 Download the full data tables