Thursday, 12 April 2012

London Mayoral Election 2012

I don't live in London, so I don't get to vote in the mayoral election next month. Despite that, I'm affected by the result of that election, as are a great many people who live outside the capital. I guess I visit London 2 or 3 times a month, on average, and the policy areas under the Mayor's control have a direct impact on me, just as they do on Londoners and all those who visit the city. So that's my justification for writing about the election here.

I will 'fess up and say that, if I had a vote on May 3rd, I would be voting for Ken Livingstone, so don't expect a neutral post here. Ken is the voice of real London, and he's been dedicated to improving the city for 30 years. There's no one running for election that I would rather see in City Hall.

Anyway, I've just watched Ken's party election broadcast. If you haven't seen it, take a look - it's not like most party propoganda, and is actually kind of moving. It gives some idea of why he cares about being Mayor. There's a bit of ego there (does anyone really run for office without having a bit of ego?), but I really think that it's mainly that he cares about London and the people who live in it.

First, in case you don't know, here's what the Mayor's Office does with its £14bn budget:
  • controls the budget for the Met Police, Transport for London, the London Development Agency, the London Fire Brigade and the Greater London Authority
  • appoints the members and chairs of the Boards of all these important organisation
  • sets out plans and policies for London covering transport, planning and development, housing, economic development and regeneration, culture, health inequalities, and a range of environmental issues including climate change, biodiversity, ambient noise, waste disposal and air quality
When Ken was Mayor 10 years ago, the headline policies that he introduced were the congestion charge in central London, and the Oyster Card system of paying public transport fares. This time around, in the age of cuts and austerity, it's all about making life a little easier for normal people. This is what Labour policies are supposed to do - focus on ordinary and less well-off people, and use the powers of the state to make their lives better

Ken's headline policy for 2012 is a cut in public transport fares, which have risen above inflation every year since Boris Johnson became Mayor. Bus fares in the city have risen 50% in the last 4 years. It's now £1.35, up from 90p in 2008. So, 45p more - who cares? Well, it adds up to about £220 more per year to your commute if you take one bus to work and one bus home - and lots of people have to take two different buses, meaning £440 a year. I think I'd care about that. Ken's policy commitment - over which he pledges to resign if it isn't done by 7 October 2012 - is a 7% fare cut. That takes bus fares down to £1.25.

This is just an example of the difference that it will make having Ken as Mayor, rather than Boris. But I think it's a good example, because it really illustrates the focus of the two candidates' policies. Cutting public transport costs helps the many, not the few. The rich minority don't care what the bus fare is - they rarely use buses, and when they do the cost is irrelevant. But the ordinary and less well-off majority really are affected by it, and it does matter. These things that look so small to the rich are the things that make the difference between life being manageable or not for many people.

That's why this election really is about a vision of how London should be run. Do Londoners believe in trickle-down economics, whereby making the rich richer and more comfortable ends up helping ordinary people? Have we seen much evidence of that over the last few years? Do we see the money that bankers continue to make in their salaries and automatically-received 'bonuses' flowing down to the rest of us? Or do we see it being invested in property that no one else can afford, and stashed off-shore in tax-free savings?

Boris Johnson's part-time hands-off approach to running one of the world's major cities isn't working, and ordinary people are bearing the brunt of his policies that help the privileged few. Fun as it may be to watch Boris's buffoonery and wonder just how embarrassing he's going to be today, we deserve better. Ken Livingstone is not perfect, and there are plenty of people who find plenty to dislike about him. But he is committed to London, and I think he'll deliver practical improvements which will make most people better off, economically and socially.

Vote Ken on 3 May.

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