Diane Abbott: London shouldn’t have another white, middle-aged man as mayor

London doesn't need yet another middle-aged, white man as mayor, Diane Abbott suggested last night, as she called on her party to make her Labour's first black female candidate for City Hall.

The Hackney MP said the city had been led for too long by people who look like her rival, Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas.

"Gareth has said that he knows what leadership looks like," Abbott told a hustings in central London last night.

"And of course what Gareth literally means is that it looks like him.

"And it is a reasonable thing to say, because the leadership in local government in London have looked like him since the days of the London council…

"I am saying to you in the 21st century, in the most international, global city in the world if you want to know what the leader of London looks like, you are looking at me, the next mayor."

Abbott's comments are at odds with her previous insistence that identity should not be the defining factor in the mayoral race.

Following comments earlier this year from Margaret Hodge that Labour should pick an ethnic minority mayoral candidate, the Hackney MP, wrote in the Evening Standard that Hodge was "wrong".

"Her remarks… about the need for London to have a black or minority-ethnic mayor were well meant. But she is wrong," she wrote.

"The most important thing about London’s new mayor will not be skin colour. Probably the most important quality a big-city mayor needs is a willingness to fight for their city."

Labour's Gareth Thomas addresses a mayoral hustings at the University of Westminster

Abbott's latest comments came during a mayoral hustings on the future of London housing.

Abbott told the Labour Housing Group, that many ethnic minority Londoners were being forced out of the centre of the city due to the demolition and regeneration of former council estates.

"The problem is not just social cleansing, but often you find a different demographic, dare I say it racial mix on the estate once the developers have finished their work."

She suggested she would alter the mayor's London Plan to ensure new developments have a broader social and ethnic make-up.

Abbott also repeatedly attacked the current frontrunner for the Labour mayoral nomination Tessa Jowell, for her record on Olympic housing

Jowell, who has made her role in bidding for and delivering the Olympics a major part of her campaign, was accused of failing to ensure enough genuinely affordable housing in the Olympic park. The former Olympics minister claimed that 50% of housing in the East Village section of the site was "affordable"

"I am disputing what Tessa says about the housing development in the Olympic park," Abbott replied.

"The amount of social housing was pitiful. We need to be careful before adopting a candidate who would roll that model out across London."

She was joined by fellow candidate David Lammy, who insisted he didn't "recognise" Jowell's claims about affordable housing in the Olympic park.

Jowell also came under fire after suggesting that homelessness would never be eradicated in London.

The current mayor Boris Johnson originally promised to end rough sleeping in London by 2012, but has instead overseen a rise in numbers.

"I know from a lifetime of experience, you will never, ever get to the position where there are no people sleeping on the streets of our city," Jowell said.

Her comments were met with cries of "shame" and "we will," from the audience.

"No you won't," she insisted. "You've got to tackle the root causes."

Jowell's other mayoral rival, Christian Wolmar, accused her of being "too negative" on the issue.