As Boris Johnson ends his eight-year tenure as London Mayor next year, Labour candidates are fighting it out to go up against Tory dream boy Zac Goldsmith. Gráinne Maguire couldn’t be more fascinated by proceedings.
It is with great sadness that next year London must wave goodbye to current mayor Boris Johnson. Johnson worked tirelessly for the capital, even sometimes popping into City Hall when his busy schedule of writing a weekly newspaper column, appearing on his regular radio show, writing books, making BBC documentaries and, most recently, being an MP allowed.
He will be fondly remembered as the man who oversaw the greatest spike in not only London rents but also London’s food banks. Under his reign Londoners were safe in the knowledge that the most dangerous place in our capital was not an inner-city estate but anywhere between Boris and a photo opportunity. Lovable clown, with his funny hair and clever ability to remember Latin: London’s loss is now Britain’s problem.
But what, or more accurately who, now? The Labour party really hope it’s one of theirs. After waking up the morning after election night, suffering a Jason Bourne-style crisis with absolutely no clue of its identity, past, future, address, what year it was, where those weird tattoos came from… it needs good news. It needs a win.
With its candidate for mayor decided in September, hustings are being held all over the city this summer, allowing candidates to present their case. Party members ask questions and decide who has the best shot at beating Zac Goldsmith, the Conservatives’ likely candidate and all round dream boy. He’s an environmentalist, his sister is Jemima Khan and he looks like a Disney prince.
Compared to the glamorous BBC Labour leadership debate being broadcast that very same night in Nuneaton, the first of these mayoral hustings is much more humble.
Held in a hall at the back of King’s Cross, there are no journalists and no photographers, and candidates shuffle about before the debate, trying to look busy, self-consciously half-waving at people they recognise in the crowd. They look like the sort of people in pubs who wait anxiously for a date you know has stood them up.
Middle-aged party members make their way to their seats while young men in their 20s anxiously walk up and down the back of the room self-importantly checking their mobile phones. It’s all like an am dram production of The West Wing.
The main candidates have two minutes to present their cases. David Lammy seems the most confident; he’s got a boyish energy and a great idea to allow the bond market to invest in London social housing. Tessa Jowell presents herself as the one most likely to win. Yes, I may be a bit boring and yes you may prefer the others, the subtext seems to be, but get realistic, who’s your best shot? I got you the Olympic Games, remember?
Sadiq Khan pitches himself as the panel’s Dick Whittington who, thanks to the opportunities unique to a city like London has risen from the son of a bus driver to possible first citizen. He is flanked by two lesser-known candidates: Christian Wolmar, a campaigner for greener transport, and Gareth Thomas, an advocate for separate votes and tax options for London. Then, it’s the lady herself, beaming regally at the end of the table: Diane Abbott, Labour’s Queen Mother.
“At one point Diane Abbott lists off all the reality shows she’s appeared on – Celebrity Come Dine With Me, Pointless – all to ensure, she assures us, that her constituents know who she is.”
Things bounce along at a convivial rate; everyone seems to like and respect each other. They are asked questions from the audience about housing, transport, and support for small businesses. A 10-year-old girl representing a children’s charity asks if they are worried about child poverty and Khan asks her in a gentle sing-sing voice if she knows that inequality isn’t just bad for society, but that poor families died younger too? It’s like the grimmest bedtime story ever. Don’t have nightmares, kids.
It’s all like a really nice dinner party, everyone more or less agreeing with each other, only punctuated by bad fairy Abbott’s determination to break the bonhomie and bring the thunder. Does the audience know, she wonders aloud, her voice dripping with faux innocence, that she was the only MP on the panel to oppose the benefit cap? You can almost hear the EastEnders ‘dum dum dums’ in her head.
Later she dramatically reveals a letter Khan wrote to a newspaper that seemed to confirm fears that immigration has a detrimental impact on jobs. At one point she lists off all the reality shows she’s appeared on – Celebrity Come Dine With Me, Pointless – all to ensure, she assures us, that her constituents know who she is. She finishes by reminding us with a smirk that on a terrible election night for Labour, her vote actually went up. Touché Abbott. Touché.
The only shame is, realistically you can only be an eccentric egomaniac prone to career-ending gaffes and still a serious candidate for mayor of London if you’re a posh white man with blonde hair. A pity as, judging from her performance, Abbott’s certainly got the star power. And doesn’t an ‘Abbott bike’ have a nice ring to it?2221 Views
Gráinne Maguire is a comedian, comedy writer, lover and a fighter. Loves the Labour Party and Cheryl Cole in equal measures.