Sadiq Khan’s speech to Labour conference just now could be summed up in a single word: power. He repeated it so much – 38 times in total – you’d be forgiven for thinking he could do with a thesaurus. But there was nothing accidental about him banging on about power. This was a clear dig at Jeremy Corbyn.
Khan’s big idea isn’t real that big at all. He told his party that Labour out of power ‘will never, ever be good enough’, while his finishing plea was that:
‘It’s time to put Labour back into power, it’s time for a Labour Government. A Labour Prime Minister in Downing Street.’
It might seem remarkable that Khan should feel the need to say this; after all, it’s a pretty basic point, agreed by many, that a political party without power isn’t much use at all. Yet what Khan is clearly suggesting is that there are some – namely the Labour leader, whose handshake after Khan’s speech was brief to say the least – who don’t see things that way. As the Labour politician with the largest personal mandate to his name, Khan knows he is in a position where, like it or not, he can tell others about winning elections. Corbynistas like to point to the 313,209 who backed their man over Owen Smith during this summer’s leadership election as proof of his electoral credibility. But the 1.3m voters who opted for Khan in the London mayoral election dwarfs that number- and Khan knows it.
So the mayor’s message to Labour conference was: let’s copy my own success in London and get Labour back into winning ways in the mayoral elections in Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. Khan said that: ‘with Labour Mayors in power we can prove that we are ready for Government’. Khan is also clearly hoping that electoral success outside of Westminster can provide some rival power bases away from Corbyn’s tightening stranglehold on the party. He also hopes that, in time, the contrast between Labour being in power outside of Westminster and the increasing unlikelihood that Corbyn will ever win power himself (Labour trails the Tories by 15 points, according to the latest polling) can wake Corbyn followers up from their day dreaming. It’s a desperate pitch – but one that might rescue Labour from entering the political wilderness for years to come.