Jeremy Corbyn at a junior doctors strike

Rumours abound that Jeremy Corbyn could run for London Mayor in May 2024. There is a logic to this. A previous leftist carved out by a Blair leadership, Ken Livingstone, stood and won. Corbyn is popular amongst many Londoners and as Keir Starmer becomes both more right wing and duller by the day, an insurgent left candidate could win in London. Jeremy Corbyn could no doubt raise a large amount of money and mobilise a small army of election workers.

Sadly there is a possibility that a Corbyn election ticket could put the right in power in London. In turn this would sink progressive policies on climate change and transport. Although it seems unlikely at present it might even give Rishi Sunak a base to win in next year’s general election.

Sadiq Khan isn’t my kind of politician, he is one of the centre right, he is no radical and on climate change he can be criticised. After all, he has pushed ahead with the Silvertown Tunnel which will boost car use. Politicians like Khan who fly off to international conferences to proclaim their support for the salvation of the planet, universally come across as shallow hypocrites.

However, the Tory government have worked hard to create the conditions, unlikely as they may seem, for a right wing victory in next year’s contest for London Mayor. In turn, a motley band of right wingers, Tufton Street operatives and conspiracy theorists are working hard to oust Khan and elect the Tory candidate Susan Hall.

The narrow victory of the Tories in the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election this summer, has been put down to the unpopularity of Khan’s expansion of the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ). Sunak has been inspired to take a knife to Tory environmental policy. In turn, the ever opportunistic and weak Labour leader Keir Starmer has called on Khan to reject ULEZ expansion. While this analysis is problematic, after all, the Tories lost a lot of votes and ULEZ was originally a policy put forward by former Uxbridge MP, Boris Johnson, this year has seen a joint Labour and Tory retreat on green policies.

An otherwise unexpected win for the Tories in London would be just the kind of boost Sunak needs to call a General Election and win, or at least lose rather less badly than expected. A win or a near win for Susan Hall, will accelerate Keir Starmer’s rejection of policies to reduce traffic, cut congestion and deal with climate change.

In Britain we are prisoners of noxious politics. Shadowy right wing think tanks and lobbyists pour money into anti net zero campaigns, the majority of newspapers campaign against even mild measures to fight climate chaos. Hardly a day goes by without the Sun, the Daily Mail or the Telegraph condemning electric cars, heat pumps and renewable energy. And loud anti-environmental networks are increasingly taking to the streets to attack low traffic networks and proclaim that ‘climate change is a hoax’.

ULEZ expansion can of course be criticised as increasing costs at a time of economic hardship. Other policies might work better, but for the pro-oil lobby any move against pollution is attacked, day in day out. ULEZ affects less than 10% of vehicles, there are numerous exemption and generous funding has gone into grants to buy new cleaner vehicles. The public hysteria has certainly risen after well-funded and shrill campaigns of disinformation.

A Corbyn Mayoral campaign on the face of it makes a lot of sense for all of us on the green left. Jeremy long championed climate action, I remember over a decade ago when I was Green Party principal speaker how often he reached out to work with those of us in the party. His leadership of Labour gave some serious hope of a future beyond the neoliberal consensus of misery and austerity.

However the fact is that the Tories have laid a trap. Changes in the election rules mean a Corbyn candidacy could simply deliver a Susan Hall victory. Hall seems a long shot as Mayor, a Trump light candidate perhaps, strongly opposed to ULEZ, low traffic zones and other environmental policies, her election would be a catastrophe for the green movement. Yet because the ID requirement to vote favours motorists who can use their driving licenses, she will find it easier than either Corbyn or Khan to pick up votes.

More fundamentally the Tories have sneaked through a new way of counting the votes for Mayoral elections which will significantly boost Susan Hall. There is no longer a second vote, so the candidate with the most votes on the first round will win. In the past unless they gained over 50% on the first vote, transfers would be taken into account. Khan had a narrow win on the first vote in 2021, 40% to 35% for the Tory Shaun Bailey. This was because the left and centre split between a number of Mayoral candidates. Second preferences from Greens and Liberal Democrats, gave him a comfortable victory on the transfers. This time around there will be no transfers, and Khan is under a lot more electoral pressure than in 2021.

ULEZ has damaged Khan’s poll ratings, even without this the left vote is already divided in London. Corbyn might, I guess, leap across other candidates and win on a first past the post system. More likely is the vote will be split and the Tories could win with a candidate who polls just 30%.

Politics is a brutal game, Khan is an imperfect candidate, yet his defeat will be seen as evidence that more progressive policies from free school meals to cutting air pollution are vote losers. If a Corbyn candidacy leads to a Khan defeat, this will also make it far more difficult for Jeremy to win re-election as an MP. Let’s face it – given the rightward drift of British politics, we need every left and green MP we can get.

Hot takes are dangerous, warm takes are worth challenging, I am happy to be proved wrong on this but the defeat of Sadiq Khan, could open up yet more opportunities for the right in Britain. Jeremy Corbyn is both a thoughtful and ethical politician, I hope he puts some thought into the effects positive and negative of any potential candidacy for London Mayor next year before deciding whether to run or not.

Derek Wall is a former Principal Speaker of the Green Party of the England and Wales. His most recent book is Climate Strike: The Practical Politics of the Climate Crisis published by Merlin Press.

Image credit: Garry Knight – Creative Commons