23/06/2015 09:52 BST | Updated 23/06/2015 13:59 BST

Alan Johnson Accuses Tessa Jowell's Labour Rivals In Mayor Race Of Ageism

Dan Kitwood via Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 28: Olympics Minister Tessa Jowell and Home Secretary Alan Johnson (L) meet locals in Brixton as Labour shift their focus to policies on crime on April 28, 2010 in London, England. The General Election, to be held on May 6, 2010 is set to be one of the most closely fought political contests in recent times with all main party leaders embarking on a four week campaign to win the votes of the United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Tessa Jowell's rivals to be Labour's candidate for London mayor have been accused of ageism by former home secretary Alan Johnson.

Jowell, 67, is fighting Sadiq Khan, 44, Diane Abbott, 61, David Lammy, 42, Gareth Thomas, 47, and journalist Christian Wolmar, 65, for the right to fight the Conservatives for City Hall in 2016.

Addressing a meeting of Jowell supporters in a bar by the Thames on Monday evening, Johnson said his former cabinet colleague was the "Kylie Minogue of British politics". And said it was wrong for other candidates to suggest Jowell was too old to be mayor.

"I've heard some of Tessa's opponents are using Tessa's age against her," he said. Johnson added given Labour was the first party to call for votes for women and introduced age discrimination legislation when it was last in power, it was "ridiculous of Labour party opponents to be using those against Tessa".

Johnson, 65, said the best response to criticisms of Jowell's age was to quote Ronald Reagan. During a presidential debate in 1984, the 73-year-old president was asked if he was too old to be in the White House. "I will not make age an issue of this campaign. I am not going to exploit, for political purposes, my opponent's youth and inexperience," he said of his younger opponent.

Speaking to Labour activists, Johnson acknowledged it was "such a depressing time" for the party in the wake of its general election defeat. "Yes these are dark times," he said. "In the party now we are quite depressed, we need good news, we need someone who is positive."

"I saw personally Tessa's great strength, which is she is unremitting positive in her politics. She is unremittingly innovative about what she does. She doesn't just describe a problem, we can all do that, she can find solutions," he said.

Veteran Labour MP Margret Hodge had considered running for mayor. However she decided against it and told the Evening Standard it was time for "new generation" to take over and also said she thought Khan had "a better record of delivery" than Jowell.

Johnson has also lent his support to Ben Bradshaw in Labour's deputy leadership campaign, praising him as a "brave and rational voice" within the party. However he has yet to publicly back any of the leadership candidates.

On Tuesday Conservative MP Zac Goldsmith formally entered the race to become the Tory mayoral candidate. The Conservative side of the ticket is far less crowded than the Labour side and the Richmond MP is the overwhelming favourite to be selected to fight Labour.