Jowell vs Abbott

Why did the centrist candidate beat the left wing-candidate so comprehensively?

Tessa Jowell


While left-winger Jeremy Corbyn goes from strength to strength, it seems to have gone almost unnoticed that in the Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominations for London Mayor, the centrist candidate Tessa Jowell thrashed the socialist Diane Abbott.

London CLP Results: 1st choice nomination for mayor:

Tessa Jowell – 63 CLP nominations;
Diane Abbott – 8 CLP nominations.
CLPs that nominated both Jowell and Abbott: 0.

When each London Constituency Labour Party (CLP) nominated its two candidates for mayor, there was a procedure in place: the first nomination of each CLP must be a woman. Abbott and Jowell were the only two women in the race. Thus they competed directly against one another.

Why did no CLP choose to nominate both women? Why did the centrist candidate beat the left wing-candidate so comprehensively?

Diane Abbott is well-known and popular in London and, like the rising star Jeremy Corbyn who she often shares a platform with, she has a distinct voice in the Labour party. One might have expected her to get more than eight nominations.

Well, Labour bungled the nomination process. At CLP meetings, everyone present was asked to vote twice. First they voted for a female candidate – between Diane Abbott and Tessa Jowell. Then the winning woman “1st candidate” was announced, and then they voted again (now for a man or a woman).

It seems very likely that this two-stage process had a large psychological impact on the members’ voting. If you voted for Abbott in the first round and saw her lose, you were unlikely to vote for her again. In effect there were two races, one for women and then one for men.

As for Jowell’s comprehensive victory over Abbott, this would seem to have much to do with ‘electability’. London Labour, it is sometimes said, like to pick a ‘winner’: there was a perception that Jowell could win and that Abbott couldn’t. A former cabinet minister under Blair and Brown who successfully presided over the Olympics, Jowell had the appearance of the next London Mayor.

If this theory is right, then it would seem to separate Jowell not just from the other mayoral candidates but also from the other candidates in the Party’s Leadership election.

Labour Leadership Candidate % of London
CLPs nominated
% of Nationwide
CLPs nominated
Andy Burnham 15% 28%
Yvette Cooper 31% 28%
Jeremy Corbyn 37% 39%
Liz Kendall 17% 5%


As compared with the nationwide CLPs, London’s were indeed more likely to nominate one of the centrist candidates. Kendall does markedly better in London than she does nationwide, for instance. Still, Corbyn – who never scores well on ‘electability’ even according to those nominating him – did very well in London.

Evidently, it is not solely ‘winning’ that London CLPs think about.

Perhaps there is a general perception across the London party that none of the leadership candidates can win a general election and become prime minister. So why not vote for Corbyn at your local CLP meeting?

This can still leave us wondering why Abbott did not do better in the mayoral nominations, when – like Corbyn – she was clearly the sole ‘left candidate’. Of course we don’t know for certain, but she does appear to have been disadvantaged by a combination of:

  1. Labour’s inept voting procedure
  2. the perceived electability of Jowell

Counter-intuitively Abbott may well have got more nominations than actually she did if the at least one woman rule had never been introduced. Jowell, it seems, was a particularly difficult opponent for Abbott to be in a head to head race with.

There is an easy improvement that could be made to the nominations procedure, consistent (of course) with ‘the at least one woman rule’, but avoiding two separate races. The Labour Party could simply instruct its London CLPs to have members vote according to the following simple procedure: Each member attending the meeting will cast two votes on a single voting slip. In accordance with the Party’s rule that at least one woman be nominated, any voting slip that does not contain the name either of one or of two of the women candidates will be deemed ‘spoiled’.

This, I believe, would have led to some CLPs nominating both women (Jowell and Abbott), and increased Abbott’s number of nominations. By avoiding two separate races, seemingly one for a woman and one for a man, it would also have better reflected the preferences of those Labour members who voted.

It will be interesting to see if, to any extent, Abbott can build on the success of Corbyn in the race itself.

Peter Wiggins is a freelance journalist. Follow him on Twitter

13 Responses to “Jowell vs Abbott”

  1. Giles Farthing

    In a competition. Abbott will always have the bigger jowels. But seriously. One is an obese racist with very very warped views on the world and the other is called tessa

  2. damon

    Perhaps it’s because Diane Abbott is widely perceived as a joke. Even within the Labour party.
    The people who would vote for Abbott are the same people who thought that Camila Batmanghelidjh was fantastic.

  3. Mick

    …any voting slip that does not contain the name either of one or of two of the women candidates will be deemed ‘spoiled’.

    What a dickhead. Suppose a voter thinks both women are crap? He or she’s immediately a thought criminal and an enemy of Labour, a-la Gillian Duffy! May as well be, for how you people think.

  4. AlanGiles

    It seems that Jowell supporters forget that the woman constantly signed remortage forms, and her only excuse was that hubby put them in front of her and she signed them without reading them (imagine doing that as Mayor), they forget she and her husband were great friends of the revolting Berlusconi and she vastly underpriced the cost of the 2012 election.

    Jowell is soiled goods and despite the title, despite trying to sound posher than the Queen, the pro-third runway pantomime dame is likely to win the nomination, but not the job

  5. AlanGiles

    “Dame” Tessa, no less

  6. lcfcsr

    It is very simple, people will vote for candidates that represent their views and, equally as important if not more important, are electable in their view. Diane Abbott is clearly unelectable, therefore will not be supported by the membership, even amongst the most hard left of members. It is the same reason why she lost leadership election so convincingly in 2010, it’s not because the members were more right wing back then, it’s because Diane Abbott was/is not a credible candidate. The reason Corbyn is doing so well in comparison despite holding relatively similar views is because he is a credible candidate and I would suggest is not perceived amongst the party membership as the unelectable figure that he is being portrayed as.

    I think the biggest problem with this article, interesting as the analysis is, is that their seems to be no distinction made between Abbott and Corbyn, when to me and I’d suggest to the vast majority of Labour Party members there is an absolutely huge difference between the two, if not on policy on personality and political ability. By ignoring the major differences between the two and simply suggesting that they are the sole left wing candidates in their respective elections and that’s that, you ignore the real reason why Abbott is performing so badly (because she is a terrible candidate), and you ignore one of the key reasons why Corbyn is doing so well (because he is actually very credible and very talented). Because you are ignoring the real reasons behind your original question you are seeking alternative answers that just aren’t there. Some of your analysis was interesting no doubt, and the CLP nomination process may have played a small factor in keeping down Abbott’s nominations, but ultimately she is losing because she is a terrible candidate.

    I get why you’re trying to come to different conclusion. Even if I completely disagree I recognise that some people are struggling to get their head around the idea that in fact most people supporting Corbyn do perceive him to be electable, but that is the truth and for very good reason in my opinion. I’m an example of this, in 2010 there is no way that I was ever going to vote for Diane Abbott, she was/is truly unelectable, however at this election I will be voting for Jeremy Corbyn. There are other examples, Ken Livingstone has spoke about how he didn’t support Foot in 1980 because he thought he was unelectable, however he is supporting Corbyn at this election because he is electable. The Conservative minister Ken Clarke has already warned the Tories not to underestimate Corbyn as he is capable of winning the General Election in 2020. A lot of party members also share these views, which is why they are voting Jeremy Corbyn, but not for Diane Abbott, it is as simple as that.

  7. Matthew Blott

    What does that have to do with the article above?

  8. AlanGiles

    Many people regard Ms Abbott as a hypocrite because of her choice of school for her son: at least she didn’t plead that somebody made her sign the forms without her reading them. Ms Abbott didn’t try to foist Georgia Gould on Erith and Thamesmead. Ms Abbott didn’t pretend she had seperated from her husband.

    What is worse – a hypocrite (some would say) or a total money mad liar?

  9. Mauro Andrade

    Jowell is a bit like like that guy who kept telling us we needed to ‘re-assess our principles’ the other day. Unbearably irritating, sanctimonious and completely wrong on pretty much every substantive political issue.

  10. Ted

    Spot on.

  11. Peter Wiggins

    Thanks for your comment. You have got me — I am not a corbyamaniac.
    I don’t necessarily disagree at all strongly with anything you are saying though — I would say, as far as I can see, you are not necessarily taking my argument to its conclusion. I am interested jn the voting system more than ‘Corbyn v Abbott’. I am not trying to explain away quite as much as you make out. It is interesting that as Labour goes left, at the same time we see Tessa Jowell doing well. That’s neither here nor there, and it’s not my central point.
    Let me explain:
    Jowell’s far more electable than Abbott – I agree, that’s part of my argument.
    If you tell me you think that Corbyn is far more electable than Abbott, I have to believe you. Perhaps, to a small extent, that’s what is making him do better, but, as I argue, I don’t think ‘electability’ is what would inspire a Labour Party member to vote for either Jowell or Corbyn.
    Corbyn is a far far better candidate for leader than Abbott is for mayor – yes for sure, judging from the CLP results, this is clearly true. And yes, there are evidently other factors, apart from ‘electability’ that make or break a candidate.
    What I am wondering about is the way in which the implementation of the at least one woman rule affected Abbott’s number of CLP nominations. As I say, I think she might have done a bit better if Labour members had been allowed to vote for both candidates at once. I might be wrong about this; for what it’s worth, I am certainly not saying that, without the rule in place, Abbott would have done anything like as well in the mayoral nominations as Corbyn did in the leadership nominations. I am saying the results would have been different. And I can’t see a reason not to change over to the system I propose. Even if I was assured that, using either system, the results worked out the same, I’d still think mine was fairer.
    To give an example that (I hope) makes my point: imagine that, instead of Abbott, there is a woman in the race who is extremely good (much better than you seem to think Abbott is!). Let’s call her Holmes, (let’s say she is just as good a candidate for mayor as Mr Corbyn is for leader!). Holmes and Jowell would be trading blows in the first round and it might be quite even.Come the second round though, after the winner of the 1st round has been announced, voters will always be disincentivized to vote for the second of them. Given they’re both very good, why wouldn’t a CLP want to nominate both Jowell and Holmes?
    Maybe, in these circumstances, some CLPs would have nominated both. Who knows? But I think it is unlikely. I come back to the same point: the system being used was not fair, and it could well have disadvantaged Abbott.
    Along side all this, the other possibility I am floating, and I might be dead wrong about this – is that Jowell is a very good candidate, far better than any of the leadership candidates. I only suggest this gently.
    I do also think that if Abbott was in the leadership race this time, she’d do much better than she did in 2010. But you must be right, she would not be doing anything like as well as Corbyn.
    PS I’d take what Ken Clarke says with a pinch of salt.

  12. Robert Scott

    But a different group of people that are voting for Corbyn. You’re not making sense.

  13. RB2

    Well, certainly the voting procedure described is very stupid and could produce anomalous results, but in this case there is a simpler explanation. Diane Abbott is a very weak candidate: whenever one sees her on tv, which is more often than her talents merit, she is talking rubbish. And frequently getting called on it too.

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