Send in the Clowns: Izzard for London

James Ford

James Ford is a senior adviser to PLMR. He previously worked as an aide to Mayor Boris Johnson between 2010 and 2012, specialising in transport, environment and digital policy.

One of my favourite Labour photo ops of the 2012 London elections was when Ken Livingstone posed with Eddie Izzard and Roger Lloyd Pack (better known to you and I as Trigger off ‘Only Fools and Horses’) and urged Londoners not to elect ‘a joker’ as Mayor. The message ultimately went unheeded but the image flashed through my mind again yesterday when Eddie Izzard announced at Labour Party Conference that he would seek the Labour nomination for Mayor of London in 2020.

The announcement prompts lots of questions: Why 2020 and not 2016? If a Labour Mayor is elected in 2016, does Mr Izzard intend to challenge an incumbent from his own party for the nomination? Does the Labour Party understand the meaning of the word irony? Is British politics ready for a cross-dressing Mayor of London? What does it say about the gender imbalance in UK politics if the first lipstick-wearing Mayor of London is a man?

Hopefully, with PLMR’s indulgence, I will be able to explore some of these questions in more detail via this blog over the next few years .But, for me, one of the most interesting issues an Izzard run on City Hall raises is how it will navigate the well-established fault lines of London politics. Izzard is a compelling candidate – financially successful and self-made, not the product of the usual career conveyor belt of UK politics, charity marathon runner, hugely popular and well known, comfortable on camera, eloquent and, of course, funny.

However, one can also imagine a number of London’s disparate political ‘tribes’ – even on the centre-left – taking issue with him. Obviously we would expect small-c conservatives in suburban outer London to be reluctant to embrace a candidate who used to earn a living riding a unicycle in Covent Garden. But many faith groups would also struggle to back a transvestite candidate, let alone one whose comedy routine once likened religion to believing in magic. Does he cycle? What are his relations with the unions like? Does he support a third runway at Heathrow? Does he agree with the Met’s policy on stop and search? Is he in favour of HS2?

As a veteran of a number of Conservative borough and mayoral campaigns in the Capital, I have to confess that the idea of an ‘Izzard for London’ campaign quite scary. Such an atypical candidate would be difficult (but not impossible) to beat and would certainly make an election unpredictable. No doubt the 2020 Mayoral election will make for an entertaining spectacle – perhaps the Conservatives can be persuaded to field Jim Davidson to really make things interesting….

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