Who will lead Labour’s moderates? Step forward, Sadiq Khan

The biggest lie in British politics is that the Labour Party is a broad church. It is not. It consists of two separate, distinct parties, each with its own diametrically-opposed philosophy.

While Jeremy Corbyn is the nominal leader of the whole party, encompassing both left and right, he is the spiritual leader and conscience of the hard left, a party committed to red-blooded socialism and principled opposition, even if (preferably if) those principles prevent it from forming a government.

The right of the party (whose adherents self-describe variously as “soft left”, “moderates” or “New Labour”) believes first and foremost in winning elections and are prepared to make whatever compromises they need to in order to do so. They are the “half a loaf is better than no loaf at all” wing of the party, and they have nothing in common with their hard left compatriots other than a matching membership card.

But who is the leader of the Half a Loaf party?

The role-call of contenders is predictable: Liz Kendall, Michael Dugher, Tristram Hunt, Chuka Umunna, Dan Jarvis. Andy Burnham has declared his intention to return to the North from where he originally hails (I know, he kept that quiet, didn’t he?) and has therefore ruled himself out of contention as standard bearer of the moderates.

So step forward Sadiq Khan, newly elected Mayor of London.

In 14 years as an MP I never met anyone more nakedly ambitious than Khan. And I mean that in an entirely positive, complimentary way. He has a game plan, as all successful political leaders must have. Not for him the fake British modesty of the Left: “Who, me? You think so? Oh, I don’t know, but if you really want me to stand I’ll certainly think about it…”

The Mayor also has something else that successful politicians must have: a message.

With a keen eye on the slow-motion disaster engulfing his party at Westminster, Khan is showing Labour and the rest of the country how it’s done. He’s reaching out to those voters who supported his Conservative opponent. He’s offered to share a platform with the Prime Minister in the EU referendum campaign. Most importantly, his language is inclusive, moderate and attractive.

Meanwhile on a nearby planet…

It was revealed last week that Jeremy Corbyn recently told a documentary film crew, in answer to a question about his ambition, said: “Does anybody want to be Prime Minister?”

It was a stark reminder of the reason why Corbyn stood for the Labour leadership in the first place, and also of the motivation behind most, if not all, of his supporters in voting for him. Corbyn never really wanted to be leader and he certainly has no interest in being Prime Minister. Who would want to put up with the pressure and the compromises?

No, his agenda for his party is not to lead it into government, but to change it fundamentally and irreversibly before he steps down in his own good time and hands the reins to the more formidable, more competent, more ambitious and more sinister John McDonnell.

By the time that happens, Labour will be unrecognisable from the movement that won three general election victories under Tony Blair, and even from the party that put Harold Wilson and Clem Attlee into Downing Street.

In the same way, those Labour Party members who supported Corbyn, who were sick and tired of having to defend questions about the record of the last Labour government every time they went to the pub, are more than happy to moan about the Conservative government without fear that their hero will ruin it all by becoming Prime Minister and restart all those old, difficult questions all over again.

Sadiq Khan is looking on from City hall with a sense of sadness. And also anticipation.

For there is an opportunity here. Within the next few years – perhaps the next few weeks, depending on what happens on June 23 – Khan’s predecessor as Mayor is very likely to be Prime Minister.

Khan has watched Boris’s successful moves, from the House of Commons to City Hall and back again, with fascination and admiration. Could he himself repeat that feat?

That that is his ambition is not in doubt. I have a mental image of the Mayor’s bus-driving father (I know, he kept that quiet, didn’t he?) introducing his baby son to his work colleagues and of the young Khan offering to shake hands from his pram.

As with all political game plans, however, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. For a start, while Khan’s victory earlier this month might have impressed the Half a Loaf tendency, it put the rest of the party on alert for signs of his first betrayal. Winning elections is all very well, Mr Mayor, but do you even have planning permission for the New Jerusalem yet?

Then there’s that whole broad church problem: Khan is a talented individual, but unless he gets a move on, the reformation of the Labour movement might have split the party into two separate ones by the time he’s decided – reluctantly, of course – to heed the calls to leadership.

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