Labour’s mayoral race is much closer than the polls suggest

A new poll out today suggests that Tessa Jowell is storming ahead in the race to become Labour's candidate for London mayor.

Jowell has the support of 40% of Londoners, once don't knows are excluded, according to the YouGov poll for the Evening Standard.

In second place is Diane Abbott on 18%, while Sadiq Khan has dropped down to third place on 14% alongside David Lammy.

Jowell also has the clearest cross-party support of all the candidates with 40% of Labour and Lib Dem supporters and a whopping 48% of Tory supporters backing her (once don't knows are excluded).

All of which might lead you to assume that Jowell will be the runaway winner of the contest. However, all the signs are that it won't be anywhere near as straightforward as that.

The first point to realise is that the gap between the candidates in today's poll is heavily exaggerated by excluding 'don't knows'. If you include the don't knows, the gap becomes much narrower. Also telling is the finding that 57% of Londoners either don't know who Labour should pick or don't think they should pick any of them. There is still a lot to play for in the months still left to go.

The second more important point to realise is that it is not ordinary Londoners or even Labour supporters who will choose Labour's candidate. Labour is holding a primary but it has so far done almost nothing to promote it. As one exasperated campaign insider told me recently, some of Labour's own London MPs are not even aware the primary is taking place.

The primary process will also take place very quickly with the selection wrapped up by the end of July. Because of this, it is existing party members and trade union affiliates who will have the overwhelming say on who wins. This does not favour Jowell.

The person most likely to benefit from all this is Sadiq Khan who as Labour's London minister, London campaign chief and shadow cabinet member, already has massive party and union machinery behind him. Right from the start, Khan's rivals have accused him of trying to "stitch-up" the primary selection in his favour. Even if that's a false accusation, the way the primary works, will undeniably benefit the shadow justice secretary.

This was a fact former Labour mayor and candidate Ken Livingstone acknowledged last week when he told me that Khan was the most likely winner of Labour's selection process. And if anybody knows how the London Labour party works, it's Ken.

Ken's sentiments have also been backed up by other conversations I've had in recent weeks. Despite refusing to declare an interest in the campaign, both Khan's rivals and his supporters tell me they are "100% convinced" he will run and that he stands a good chance of winning.

We also shouldn't rule out Jowell's other rivals. Abbott is a well known figure in the party who is taking the race much more seriously than her critics might assume and Lammy is also working hard to get the nomination.

Of course this is all just anecdote and today's poll is clearly not good for Khan, Abbott, or Lammy. However, all the signs are that Labour's mayoral race will be much closer than today's Evening Standard's poll suggests. Jowell is ahead, but punters should be wary of ruling out her rivals just yet.