Ken Livingstone: another rival emerges?

THE race to take on Boris Johnson has another entrant – James Purnell. At least, that’s according to the Labour peer and former Met Police Authority chair, Toby Harris, on his blog. Harris’s “spies” tell him that the intentions of the former work and pensions secretary, who’s leaving Parliament, “are clear – he wants to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor in 2012.”

Harris, a former Labour leader on the London Assembly, is reasonably well connected in London Labour circles – though in the same post he doesn’t help his credentials as a political seer by describing a Tory victory at the general election as “unlikely”. If what he says is true, it’s further encouraging evidence that Labour is not sleepwalking into the suicide option of re-selecting the 2008 candidate to re-fight the 2008 election.

Purnell couldn’t be reached for comment last night, but some of his actions since announcing his departure from the Commons aren’t inconsistent with future involvement in mayoral politics. He’s going to do a course in community organising with the excellent London Citizens, potentially useful people to know I’d have thought, and there’s talk (a la Peter Hyman, Tony Blair’s former aide) of doing some teaching in a London school.

However, I get just a faint sense that Harris’s piece is about closing down, not encouraging, any potential Purnell candidacy. He talks about Purnell’s “conspicuous (to him, at least) talents” and snipes that Purnell is “nothing if not ambitious. He can claim to be a Londoner. He was an Islington councillor for nearly two years. What more qualification would he need?”

Already, with more than two years to go till polling day, a series of names other than Ken Livingstone has started to come into the frame – Diane Abbott, Peter Mandelson and so on. You can sense the growing distress of Ken diehards, touchingly determined that their washed-up hero be given one more chance to lose an election. Perhaps Harris’s blog post is no more than another manoeuvre by the forces of King Newt to clear the field for his inevitable 2012 oblivion.

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