Sadiq Khan should be open about his mayoral ambitions

When is a campaign for mayor not a campaign for mayor? That is the question increasingly being asked about the battle to replace Boris Johnson in London's City Hall.

Officially there are just two candidates. Only Labour's David Lammy and Christian Wolmar have so far admitted they're fighting for the job. In reality several more candidates are actively courting the job both behind and in front of the scenes.

Yesterday Labour frontbencher Sadiq Khan joined this growing list by revealing a website titled "Let Londoners Run London." Ostensibly the website is a campaign for further devolution to London. In reality it is a very thinly veiled campaign site for his bid to become London mayor.

Featuring a large picture of the Tooting MP, a slick video detailing his background as a Londoner and the branding "Sadiq Khan: Standing up for you" – there can be little doubt about Khan's intentions.

If any doubts did still remain however, a footnote makes clear that Khan "will use the data provided [by those signing the petition] to keep you updated on his activities".

Activities that may or may not include him standing for mayor.

Khan's website is all the more remarkable given the shadow London minister's previous insistence that potential mayoral candidates should avoid campaigning for the job until after the general election.

Yet despite his defacto role as head of the London Labour party, "Let Londoners Run London" is not an official Labour campaign, nor does it relate to Khan's attempts to be re-elected as Tooting's MP.

In fact it is impossible to conclude that it is anything other than the first step in what will become a fully fledged campaign to become London mayor.

Rather than "Let Londoners Run London" a more honest title would be simply "Let Sadiq Khan Run London".

So why not just admit it? Why are Khan and the Labour party continuing to insist on this dance of the seven veils with Londoners? Everybody knows who the leading candidates are. There have been several unofficial hustings, countless policy-based press releases from candidates, and two fully-fledged campaigns are already underway.

Wouldn't it be better for Labour candidates to just be open and honest about their ambitions? There's nothing wrong with wanting to be mayor of London. It is arguably the best job in British politics, but it is also the hardest to attain.

Winning the mayoral election requires a candidate to assemble a personal mandate of around a million voters from right across the capital. Acquiring that level of support requires either high name recognition, a lot of hard work, or both.

His soft launch of his mayoral campaign yesterday suggests he now realises that simply waiting until after the general election may not be enough.

Khan is a long-standing London politician with potentially much to offer Londoners, but he is not yet a big name in the capital.

Bookies currently rate him as second favourite to be the next mayor behind the more well-known Tessa Jowell. Like Khan, Jowell has also declined to officially announce her candidacy, although her statement that she is "preparing her offer for Londoners" has arguably done just that.

But rather than dance around the issue, Khan and Jowell could be openly debating the future of London. The argument that Labour should be focusing exclusively on next year's general election doesn't really wash. Labour MPs campaigning to become mayor will in no way harm Labour's electoral chances in London next year and could arguably improve them.

And once the campaign does officially get underway, candidates will have little more than two months to set out their stall and win the nomination. This is a ludicrously short timetable and will hinder anything other than a superficial debate about the issues London faces.

With six months to go until then, right now is a perfect opportunity for the candidates to be having that serious and open debate. It's time Labour dropped the pretence and just got on with it.