Herding cats is probably the best way of describing it. After hosting a Labour leadership debate and a Labour London mayoral hustings I expected the Conservative mayoral hustings to be a slightly more sedate affair. Boy was I wrong. It was spiky, tetchy and much more argumentative than I had thought it would be. At times, I felt I was on the verge of losing control. It was partly my fault because my natural inclination is not to intervene and let them slug it out, but when four male voices all talk at the same time, it doesn’t make good radio, even if those watching it online might find it entertaining. It all started when Andrew Boff responded to an accusation by Zac Goldsmith that he was wanting to subsidise the cab industry. Andrew said something like, “No, I’m a proper Tory, I don’t believe in subsidies, unlike some.” “So Zac’s not a proper Tory then, is that what you’re saying?” And so it went on.
As the presenter of a debate like this it’s sometimes easy to judge the outcome wrongly, but my honest view is that Syed Kamall edged it. He stayed calm but was intelligent, showed some good humorous moments and displayed an understanding of policy, even if his proposal for a referendum on Heathrow unravelled rather badly. I felt that Stephen Greenhalgh never really sparked and although displaying competence, wasn’t really able to show us that his agenda would be any different to the current mayor’s. Andrew Boff was, well, Andrew Boff – full of sometimes cutting one liners and at times very funny, and with some interesting policy ideas, but you never really got the feeling he himself believes he can win.
Zac Goldsmith is the clear frontrunner in this race, but his performance in our debate was frankly all over the place. He’d better hope that Lynton Crosby doesn’t watch it on playback, because if that happens Zac can expect an interview without coffee. Zac has this endearing quality for an interviewer where he not only speaks his mind but often ruminates about policy live on air but without having any detail or backup to his ideas. Great for headlines, but a campaign strategist’s nightmare. Last night he dropped the bombshell that he would massively expand the congestion zone. Excuse me?!!! I pushed him and pushed him but it appeared to be something he had dreamed up on the spur of the moment but then couldn’t give any detail as to which parts of London the zone would be expanded to. On its own, that could be an election losing gaffe. And then at the end someone texted in to ask the candidates what he biggest donation they had received was. Andrew Boff said it was 2p. Stephen Greenhalgh said his family firm had donated £50,000 and Zac Goldsmith said he was about to receive an unspecified donation from his mother and cracked a joke about being a mummy’s boy. Twitter then sprang into action and a minute or two later I was able to reveal to Zac that his mother had donated £50,000 and it turned out it had been registered in the Register of Members’ Interests back on July 31. Being evasive on donations, especially when they come from your mother doesn’t look or sound good.
There are still three weeks of this campaign to go. Zac Goldsmith remains the red hot favourite, but a few more performances like that and people will start to question his front runner status. Judging by last night Syed Kamall is his nearest competitor and he will have taken heart from his own performance.
Knowing Zac, he will realise this wasn’t his finest hour and do something about it. He should take comfort from the fact that Boris Johnson put in far worse performances in the run-up to the 2008 selection, and still pulled through with relative ease.
Today Labour announces their candidate for London mayor. They have six contenders but everyone believes it’s between Tessa Jowell and Sadiq Khan. The question is who all these new Labour members and supporters will back. Sadiq Kahn is said to have the London Labour Party in his pocket and has good organisation, and that counts for a lot, but Tessa Jowell has ran a rather good campaign, full of ideas and may well appeal to the new members as a sort of ‘Mother London’ figure. But many of these new supporters have joined to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, so it may be Diane Abbott who puts in a better than expected show on first preferences. I may live to regret this but my prediction is that this will be the order of votes on the first ballot – 1. Khan 2. Jowell 3. Abbott 4. Lammy 5. Wolmar 6. Thomas. But it may well be that Tessa Jowell comes through to win at the end on second, third, fourth and fifth preferences. I reckon it’s too close to call.
Four months on from the election and it’s only now that the Intelligence & Security Committee’s members have only just been confirmed. The four Conservative members are Michael Ancram, Keith Simpson, Dominic Grieve and Alan Duncan. It’s likely that one of them will be elected chair of the committee, but which of them can attract the most support from the five opposition members? Seeing as three of them are personal friends of mine, forgive me if I don’t pass judgement, but one prediction I will make is that this committee will have a profile during this parliament which it hasn’t had previously. So whoever wins the chairmanship is going to be someone who will be in great demand by our broadcasters.
The longer a government stays in power, the more enemies Number Ten will make. Having treated Liam Fox incredibly badly by trying to reshuffle him back into government in a junior Foreign office role, Number Ten have now compounded their idiocy by snubbing Liam Fox as a member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I haven’t spoken to him but if he was furious it would be very understandable. As a former defence secretary, he would in theory have a better claim than a former Attorney General or former Dfid minister. What was it Lyndon Johnson used to say about tents and pissing? Number Ten has forgotten a basic rule of politics, and I suspect will come to live to regret it.
This week I convened panels to rank the Top 50 LibDems (no jokes please) and the Top 100 People on the Right, which will be published during the party conferences. Next week it’s the Top 100 People on the Left, which may have rather a lot of new entries depending on what happens when the result is announced on Saturday. I’ll be broadcasting a special programme on LBC from 1pm on Saturday to react to the result. I warn you now though. Owen Jones and Polly Toynbee are the two guests booked so far. And there will be more. In the same vein. Wish me well.