Jowell fires the opening shot in Labour’s London mayor fight

Tessa Jowell has announced she will leave parliament at the next general election, in a move which is being widely interpreted as the opening shot in the battle for the London mayoralty.

The Dulwich and West Norwood has still not confirmed that she will stand for Labour in the race to City Hall in 2016, with other potential candidates including Tottenham MP David Lammy, Hackney MP Diane Abbott, former transport secretary Andrew Adonis, shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan and comedian Eddie Izzard.

Izzard remains the wildcard. He enjoys better polling results than his competitors, but he has said he is not interested in running until 2020.

That move baffled observers and suggested he did not believe Labour was in a position to win in 2016, even with Boris Johnson not running.

Most Labour figures believe that without Johnson's charisma London would revert back to its traditional political colours and stump for Labour.

Twenty-one per cent of people would back Izzard's fight for City Hall, according to a YouGov poll from last month, with Jowell in second place on 17%.

Jowell was one of the major political winners of the Olympics, where her role as culture secretary and Olympics minister in the run up to the event earned her recognition once it was over.

She also played a crucial role convincing Tony Blair to support the 2012 bid.

The former prime minister was particularly gushing in his praise for Jowell this morning.

"Tessa Jowell is a very unusual type in the often brutal world of politics," he said.

"She is immensely able, tough minded and determined. But at the same time and with the same people, she is kind, decent and loyal in a way I have seldom seen in politics.

"I always knew I could rely on her and trust her 100%. But I also knew she would never hesitate to tell me what she thought was right and true. That gave and gives her a rare integrity."

Jowell was one of the Labour MPs who convinced Blair not to resign after he failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

But her Blairite loyalties did not prevent her from being admired across Labour – a highly unusual quality in a party which was then divided into warring tribes.

She will be taking up a post at the London School of Economics but she refuses to deny reports she is considering running for City Hall.

"I am a Londoner, I love London and London is the greatest city in the world. But it is too early," she said.

However, she is appearing on a Progress panel next week which appears to be a de facto hustings event, under the title 'how can we win a mandate from London in 2015?'

Khan, Lammy, Adonis and Abbott will all join her on the panel.

Abbott comes third in public popularity among the contenders for the role, with nine per cent support, followed by Lammy on seven per cent, Adonis on six per cent and Khan on five per cent.

Ken Livingstone's former challenger, Oona King, may also run, as could Barking MP Margaret Hodge, who has boosted her public profile considerably as chair of the public accounts committee.

Lammy has little support among Labour figures in the capital, but his international profile is quite substantial.

On a trip to the US last month he emulated the rhetoric of the new Democratic mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, who campaigned on a firmly left-wing platform with a pledge to end the 'two cities' of rich and poor.

"I am thinking seriously about putting my hat into the ring to be Labour candidate for mayor in 2016," Lammy said.

"London is a great city; however, its economy works for some Londoners but not all of them. It is a tale of two cities, and I see that all the time in my own constituency. Ending that division is what animates me."

The contest to decide the Labour candidate for London mayor will take place in a closed primary of Labour members in the capital.

The leadership is likely to want to hold the event in 2016 so candidates' bids are not interpreted as them giving up hope on the party's general election prospects.