Jonathan Freedland makes a lot sense in the Guardian today arguing that the Labour Party has begun the process of selecting a candidate to fight London’s mayor Boris Johnson far too early.
With a choice between the unwanted Ken Livingstone and an underwhelming Oona King, why is Labour in such a rush to have a candidate in place for an election that does not take place until May 2012? Clearly, part of that might be connected to a power vacuum at the top of the party, but someone should stop and think as no one needs a 20-month warm-up before taking on Johnson and the Conservative Party in London.
“If Labour bided its time, other candidates might emerge. Just look at the Tories’ experience. For most of Ken’s second term, London Tories scratched their heads, unable to think of a candidate both willing and able to oust the incumbent. Sebastian Coe? Michael Portillo? Greg Dyke? Then, in July 2007, along came Boris. Note the date: Johnson declared himself just 10 months before polling day. It took until then for the then Henley MP to conclude that Livingstone could be beaten. That scenario worked for the Tories, but by rushing the process Labour has ensured nothing like it – the emergence of an Alan Johnson, say, or even an Alan Sugar – can happen to them.”
The reasons in favour of picking a candidate early are far outweighed by those against: no one knows what state the Con-Dem coalition will be in a year down the road — as day by day new signs of the fraying tensions hit the headlines. Paul Waugh in the Evening Standard has more of that today with Simon Hughes speaking of his “cold fury at David Cameron’s idea of axing council tenancies for life” and saying they do not “represent the policy of the coalition and certainly do not represent the policy of the Liberal Democrats”.