Opinion: Why we should be trying to win the London Mayor contest

Earlier this month, LDV published a piece of mine suggesting Vince Cable would make an excellent candidate for London Mayor, which I wrote because I happen to think that he can win.

Some people agreed with my supposition, others for various reasons disagreed. It was the third set of responses that surprised me. That it was the very fact that Vince could win that made him a poor choice – because the allegedly approved strategy in London was to find a candidate ‘who understands that their role is not to try and win the mayoral election but to help our campaign to elect more GLA members’.

I think this strategy would be wrong.

In principal I think any candidate going into an election without a single minded focus on how to get over the finish line in the lead is misguided. Anyone who sets out to come a good third is generally going to come a valiant fourth of fifth.

But I think in the London Mayoral election, I think it’s even more important that we try and win – for three reasons.

  1. It may be a ‘local’ election – but it’s incredibly high profile. We are a party of government – and we need to be seen to be trying to win, however high the mountain is that we have to climb.
  2. The election is based on the supplementary vote – a form of AV. What does it say about us that we’re not willing to throw everything at an election based on a system that we’ll be all be fighting tooth and nail for come May 2011 (even if it’s not quite the system we’d like).
  3. How can we expect to attract the very best candidates to stand for an election when they are sent a strategy document with the application form for candidacy, telling them their job is not to try and win (as allegedly we do)? I think most A1 candidates are only interested in standing because they want to do the job – and think they can do it better than their opponents.

There are other arguments. I’ve been told we don’t have the resources to win. I wonder if Ken thought about that when he stood as an independent. And that having got 10% of the vote in 2008, we can’t get over the line this time, and so we shouldn’t ‘waste’ a good candidate.

Sorry. I don’t buy it.

The best way of winning now is to have the best candidate. Even if we lose, getting much closer to Boris and Ken this time will help us do better next time. And there’s no reason why a strong candidate on this occasion won’t help us win more Assembly votes than anything else.

I don’t think it’s me with my head in the clouds. I think it’s others with their heads in electoral theory books.

And when I’m out campaigning for our candidate for London Mayor- I’ll be trying to win.

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This entry was posted in London and Op-eds.


  • Ben Johnson 3rd Nov '10 - 2:12pm

    I think even Vince would struggle to win the mayoralty. Look at the number of MPs we have in London, the number of assembly members and the number of councils we run. It is small. There are too many core Labour and Tory voters for us to win, at the moment anyway.

    Our highest profile candidate was Brian Paddick. This was also the year we got the our number of GLA members dropped from 5 to 3.

  • It would be interesting to see Boris’ reaction to Vince as a candidate. Would he try to buddy up to him, or would he become ever more critical of the Coalition Govt. to try to score political points? If it’s the latter, how would that affect his relationship with Cameron – not always great at the best of times? Ken, meanwhile, would lap it all up and protray himself as the anti-establishment candidate, which worked so well for him the first time.

    Actually, I’ve just realised that would be a very strong line up. If someone is recognised by their first name only (i.e. Kylie) it tends to suggest a high recognition factor. Very good for democracy, I’d think.

  • Richard morris 3rd Nov '10 - 4:32pm

    Thanks all – my real surprise was that anyone advocated adopting a strategy of not trying to win. Whether or not it’s Vince, our candidate should be able to stand toe to toe with the other two candidates and have the same kudos as them.

  • “my real surprise was that anyone advocated adopting a strategy of not trying to win. ”

    I don’t think anyone seriously involved in London’s Lib Dem politics has ever suggested this. What people HAVE said is that in 2004 and 2009, the attention paid by the mayoral candidates, their teams and campaigners to the Mayoral race meant that the London Assembly elections were often ignored.

    Having a good number of Assembly Members means that there can be important London wide resource across the capital. They can generate more media coverage for the party, lead London wide campaigning and working with activists to ensure more council seats

    Looking at the numbers there is no reason why Liberal Democrats should not have 5 members on the Assembly who could do all the above. You won’t get that number if ALL resources are devoted to a Mayoral race that the Party has only a slim chance of winning has sadly been the case.

  • richard morris 3rd Nov '10 - 5:52pm

    Hi Nick – If you check the thread on my last post (https://www.libdemvoice.org/opinion-a-mayoral-candidate-in-waiting-21718.html) someone absolutely said this and implied it was circulated to potential candidates as part of the regional strategy, which would be about official as it gets. If this is wrong ( or even if i’m reading it wrong) I’d be delighted. But when i described the view that we shouldn’t be trying to win as ‘extraordinary’ – I got picked up on it straightaway.

    but I still think it’s extraordinary…

  • Ben Johnson wrote: “I think even Vince would struggle to win the mayoralty. Look at the number of MPs we have in London, the number of assembly members and the number of councils we run. It is small. There are too many core Labour and Tory voters for us to win, at the moment anyway.”

    100% agree. The reason we can’t compete for London mayoralty is because London is very tribal politically and we have no strong base here.

  • There are about 150,000 students in London, I don’t think Vince would stand a chance.

    On a related note, I’m finding it weird how many candidates are asking me to vote for them for the Greater London Assembly when no such body exists. If you want to be part of an organisation at least use its correct name.

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