Thursday, 12 April 2012

Musings on the Mayoralty - part 1

Three weeks today, Londoners will be voting to choose a new Mayor and members of the Greater London Assembly.

In many ways, it's a case of deja vu as four of the candidates who stood last time are once again in the field. In the same way as the race in 2008 was a straight fight between two contrasting political personalities, so Messrs Johnson and Livingstone once again dominate (regrettably) the race.

Boris Johnson, the incumbent Mayor, won for a number of reasons in 2008. Londoners were weary of Ken Livingstone and more than a decade of Labour Government but Boris, with his slightly off-key personality and mannerisms, appealed to the zeitgeist in London. His bonhomie was a helpful antidote to the prevailing sense of doom and gloom abroad at the time. In short, he won because he was the more positive and optimistic candidate.

Four years on and things have changed. The mood, after four years of grim economic times, is different and subtly darker. It's hard to quantify exactly what Boris has achieved. He has tried to be both supportive and at times distanced himself from Prime Minister David Cameron and has not always convinced in either role. The bicycle scheme has been successful though it was hardly an original idea. Indeed, Boris has taken more power unto himself by taking direct control of transport and the Police.

Indeed, on transport, Boris's record is patchy at best. The Tube remains susceptible to problems and travel arrangements for the Olympics remain uncertain at best. Worse of all, fares have risen well above inflation and that has caused a deal of resentment among the millions of commuters who are prisoners of the capital's transport network.

I believe Labour made a catastrophic error in re-selecting Ken Livingstone. He looks and seems a man of the past and the euphoria of his first term as an Independent is a distant memory. Livingstone has always struggled in the suburbs where memories of his seizure of power at the GLC in 1981 and the subsequent "fares fair" scheme have remained. Put bluntly, Livingstone carries too much baggage in the Outer Suburbs. His recent problems with tax have exposed him for the liability he has become. Another candidate would have lacked his immediate recognition but would have been a far more formidable opponent for Johnson.

Brian Paddick, well beaten last time, once again carries the Liberal Democrat banner and it's a huge credit to him that he is giving it another go. He is, at best, fighting to hold third place in the face of two nationally known political personalities and the unpopularity of the Liberal Democrats as part of the Government.

Once again, Paddick has come up with some good ideas but hasn't been able to explain them well enough and has been drowned out by the noise of Livingstone vs Johnson.

Jenny Jones stands again for the Greens and it's clear her function is to be a possible Deputy Mayor in the event of a Livingstone victory.

Last time, I didn't use my second vote as I had no confidence in any of the other candidates. This time, however, we have a viable Independent candidate in Siobhan Benita. It has been disgraceful to see her excluded from the various debates, including last night's Evening Standard debate. Her manifesto reads as coherently as those of the other candidates and, at present, I intend to give her my second choice vote after Brian Paddick.

The problem all the candidates have faced is the limitation the Mayor has. The post remains largely symbolic and devoid of authority in a number of areas. The Boroughs have a lot of power as of course does the Government. The candidates have been reduced to making a series of either nonsensical or impractical promises in an attempt to gain votes.

Last week's Bradford West by-election showed the contempt felt by many voters for established politicians and political parties and the immediate response of many attending last night's London Mayoral debate confirmed that combination of disillusionment and frustration. Neither Livingstone nor Johnson, nor indeed Paddick and Jones were able to engage and enthuse and lift the debate above the pettiness of personal taxation.

London deserves better.

No comments: