Why Labour should be worried about Zac Goldsmith

The Tory mayoral candidate could win over both UKIP and Green voters

 

It was remarkable: whilst the rest of the country turned an emphatic blue, London woke up on 8 May as more of a Labour city than the night before.

As the party collected up 44 per cent of the vote, compared to just 30 per cent  across the entire country, seven London constituencies, from Ilford North in the east to Brentford and Isleworth in the west, opted to turn red.

It is certainly not surprising that Miliband’s message of equality and social justice rang so true in the capital. Indeed, the mystery of a party with its roots in socialism succeeding in one of the world’s greatest financial centres is not much of a mystery at all.

What the groans from the rest of the country about London’s wealth and dominance, whilst probably justified, miss, is the fact that the super-rich make terrible neighbours.

Driving up prices of everyday items, but most importantly property, the convergence of the world’s wealthiest in this city, has made ‘the cost of living crisis’ Labour referred to ubiquitous and damaging.

For most, the dream of owning a property has now become distant and unattainable. According to figures released by KPMG, the average salary required for a Londoner to get their foot on the property ladder, and that means purchasing a dingy studio flat in the city’s obscurest corner, is £77,000. The average salary is £28,000.

In the meantime, some of the country’s poorest communities, in Tower Hamlets, Newham and Islington, have suffered from tough welfare reforms, sending thousands of children into poverty.

Londoners have also seen the number of people sleeping rough rise twofold since 2010. Unsurprisingly, in much of the capital, the Conservative brand is the most toxic it’s been since Thatcher.

So, surely next year, it’s inevitable that we will have a new Labour mayor residing in City Hall? It seems likely, and the Labour party are certainly acting like it is, but since Zac Goldsmith joined the contest, Tessa Jowell and her colleagues should be quaking in their boots.

The Richmond Park MP had been widely tipped to run, but only officially announced his candidature last week, following an independently funded ballot in which his constituents overwhelmingly offered him their support.

In an election which exemplifies ‘personality politics’, and in which the voting system favours the least objectionable candidate, the Conservatives have found themselves the perfect solution in Zac Goldsmith.

Whilst he does not have a character the size of Boris Johnson’s, Goldsmith comes across as grounded and is articulate. In the last five years he has proved a very popular figure indeed, and presents a significant threat to Labour.

The son of two billionaire aristocrats, an Eton alumnus, and the spouse of banking heiress Alice Rothschild, the new Tory frontrunner hardly breaks his party’s elitist mould.

However, unlike many, he is remarkably difficult to accuse of snobbery or eccentricity. And, as one of the last parliament’s most rebellious MPs, it is equally as difficult to label him a ‘machine politician’.

In fact, Goldsmith is so defiant of the party whips and so far detached from the party leadership, he may as well not be in it. This will play well with London.

The MP, as former editor of ‘The Ecologist’, is also a committed environmentalist and a prominent campaigner against Heathrow expansion. In a city choking on fumes this will be invaluable.

In fact, airport expansion is such a hot-button issue in west London that his principled opposition to it could sweep up first and second preferences from across the political spectrum.

Goldsmith can also be encouraged by the fact that London’s 170,000 Green voters, whose second preferences are vital, are likely to be supportive of his bid.

Green peer Jenny Jones, who previously stood as their mayoral candidate, said many of her party’s supporters ‘very much like that he comes across as very green and committed and passionate.

As a Eurosceptic, he will almost certainly win the majority of UKIP second preferences too.

In contrast, the Labour candidates will struggle to build a broad appeal. The Blairite Tessa Jowell may drive many on the left away and is likely to be damaged by the press – they are unlikely to let her forget her catastrophic reforms to the gambling market, or the fact that her husband cunningly advised Silvio Berlusconi on how to manage his tax affairs and ended up in court.

Her main rival, Sadiq Khan, is just as open to attack. Endorsed by Miliband, Unite and Ken Livingstone, he will struggle to shake off some of Labour’s less favourable legacy.

The persistent low turnout, especially amongst the working classes, at London mayoral elections is also likely to work against the left to a greater extent than at the general election.

Despite all of this, Labour shouldn’t be too gloomy. After their success in London in May, they are certainly still in pole position for next year’s race to City Hall. However they cannot afford to be complacent. Mr Goldsmith is not too far behind.

Joshua Myers is a student and blogger who writes on British politics

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