Jowell vs Abbott

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


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

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