Back in 2000, when the institutions of Mayor and London Assembly were created (after the Conservatives abolished London Government in the late 80s) everyone assumed that they would be fairly irrelevant with few real powers, a glorified local authority. The fact that it has become mush more important than that, and therefore why the election matters, is entirely down to the candidate I am supporting, Ken Livingstone. He has been extraordinarily successful in raising the profile of the Mayor, gaining extensive extra powers, and cajoling central government into giving London a great deal of extra money. A lesser political operator could not have achieved this. With these extra powers and funds he has done enormous amount; here’s a brief and partial list.
1) Pioneered the congestion charge, a hugely brave and now widely copied approach to cutting emissions and congestion.
2) Overseen and unprecedented improvement in the bus network, leading to a large increase in bus use, and use of public transport in general
3) Opposed the government plan’s (up to the high court) to run the tube through a PPP (public-private) partnership. The collapse of Metronet proved him correct in this, and he has since been trying to bring more of the tube upkeep under TFL’s control.
4) Brought in a steadily increasing programme of free and discounted travel for children and students, currently featuring free buses under 18, and free tube under 11. This is a seriously progressive policy.
4) Brought the London Overground Network under TFL’s control, leading to quick, significant improvements. Close to a deal to bring all London rail lines under Oystercard.
5) Pedestrianised part of Trafalgar Square and subsequently sponsored a large number of public festivals in it, celebrating London varied ethnic and religious communities.
6) Brought in a target for 50% of all new housing developments to be social housing. Admittedly this only a target, but its been successful enough for many to campaign for its removal, and it is extremely difficult to see how the removal of this target (as proposed by other candidates) could help the building of more social houses in London.
7) Been extremely proactive on cutting emissions, via joint programmes with other large cities, planning regulations, changes to public buildings, recycling improvements and setting up the London Climate Change Agency
8) Awarded extensive funding to community groups, cultural festivals and arts programmes, both in large, central london venues, and more locally based ones.
Aside from these Ken has been on the right side of so many key arguments. Strongly anti-war and pro-peace, active on environmentalism before it was fashionable, strongly pro-feminist (hosting a large-scale conference for Women in London each year), strongly pro multiculturalism and in favour of Global and social Justice. Having someone in this position making the case (even in areas where the Mayor has no power, has been extremely important in influencing the discourse and social culture. He has made London feel like a progressive city.
Compared to national politicians this is an outstanding record. It seems unlikely that anyone else could have pulled this off. Indeed, the main opposition candidate would be substantially worse.
Boris Johnson would be a disastrous Mayor. As well as being totally incompetent and inexperienced, he is a seriously reactionary candidate. Until recently, when his record started to come under close scrutiny, he was a global warming skeptic, anti multiculturalist, anti-statist, pro war on Iraq neo-con, a man of the Tory hard right. Now he claims to be a moderate, but prefers not to go into any detail into his actual policies and opinions, lest we should discover what he really thinks. His candidacy should be a total joke. The only reason it isn’t is that the Evening Standard has decided to become his house journal, total abandoning normal journalistic practice. It seems they are soon to go out of business, so this is their right-wing last hurrah,
There are other good candidates who deserve your vote. Both Sian Berry and Brian Paddick are decent, progressive candidates. But if you are voting for these please consider giving Ken your second preference-to make sure London stay’s progressive and doesn’t fall in the hands of an idiotic neo-conservative.
Thus ends the election broadcast. Thank you for reading.