Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral bid should strike fear into Labour
The news that Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith has finally decided to stand for London mayor should put the fear into the hearts of all of Labour's current mayoral candidates.
Goldsmith is by far the Tories' best chance of hanging onto City Hall. He is a proven election winner who recently increased his own majority from 4,000 to 23,000 in Richmond Park.
Compare that to Labour candidate Sadiq Khan who saw a Conservative to Labour swing in his Tooting seat of just 0.3% in last month's general election.
Goldsmith also has a clear cross party appeal. A strong environmentalist and campaigner for democratic reform he can appeal not just to suburban Tories but to Green party, Liberal and many Labour voters too.
He would also be a clear break from the current mayor Boris Johnson. Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on pollution this morning, Goldsmith signalled that he would concentrate on making London a greener and more sustainable city.
In a clear departure from Johnson, who plans to build a series of new road crossings over the Thames, Goldsmith said that more needed to be invested in public transport and cycling because "you can't invent new roads".
He also said there was a "very strong case" to expand and strengthen London's low emission zone and backed new pollution taxes on the purchase of the most polluting vehicles. All of which has been opposed in varying degrees by Boris.
Goldsmith's announcement follows months of speculation about his intentions. Just last week, friends of Goldsmith told Politics.co.uk that he would "probably" stand but was still mulling his decision.
In an unusual move, Goldsmith told the Evening Standard that he would first seek approval for a mayoral bid from his Richmond constituents via a postal ballot.
However, even this decision puts him in contrast to one of his likely Labour rivals.
In the run up to the general election, Labour mayoral hopefuls David Lammy, Tessa Jowell and Diane Abbott all made it clear that they would seek their party's nomination. However, current second favourite Sadiq Khan repeatedly refused to do so, despite having already privately decided to run. The New Statesman now report that Khan plans to serve as both the mayor and as a local MP for the whole length of his first mayoral term.
As a result Khan's previous attacks on Boris Johnson for being a "part time mayor" are being dragged up by his critics and opponents. If both Khan and Goldsmith are selected, then you can expect those old quotes to be dragged up time and again.
Goldsmith's supporters are confident that he can beat Khan in the race for mayor, but are less confident of his ability to beat Tessa Jowell. However, they believe that Goldsmith will appear as the fresher and more exciting candidate against the long-serving Jowell.
Responding to Goldsmith's announcement today, a spokesperson for Jowell told Poltics.co.uk that: "Labour cannot be complacent about London."
"Labour hasn't won a major election since 2005 and we haven't won the Mayoralty in eleven years."
However, they insisted that "she has the ideas to tackle the housing crisis and inequality that holds our city back, and crucially she can win support from across London – inner city and outer boroughs, Labour members and swing voters."
Conservative TfL board member and Bloomberg executive Michael Liebreich, who had been considering a run at mayor himself, told Politics.co.uk he was now throwing his support behind Goldsmith.
"I think he will be a brilliant candidate and a fantastic mayor of London.
"It's great to have a really progressive candidate who both understands London's business sector and understands that we need a much better living environment. I have offered him whatever assistance I can to help him win."
Next year's London mayoral election is the next big test of Labour's support. If they can't win even in London where their support is greatest, then their chances of a quick recovery in the rest of the country will look pretty distant. A third win for a Tory mayoral candidate would therefore be a huge prize.
Labour have so far yet to find an effective attack on the Tory MP. Supporters of Khan have previously told Politics.co.uk that his status as a very wealthy old Etonian Tory would limit his appeal in London.
However, given that a wealthy old Etonian Tory has twice won the London mayoralty, while another wealthy old Etonian has just won the general election, they may need to consider another line of attack.