Sorry Abbi, but I’m going to have to pre-empt your feature on the London Mayoral elections. Then again, maybe it may help to influence you!
The London Mayor is a funny institution, but it’s also tremendously accountable. You’re voting for a single individual, not a broad coalition of MPs, and they are thus empowered to put forward policies which are more original, more daring, then a party ever could be. It hardly has to be said that Ken Livingstone played an important role in shaping the post: as an independent in his first term, he defined the office as being more than a puppet spokesman for party, and given the state of party politics in Britain today I think anyone should be grateful for that! But the flip-side is that if we as voters get it wrong, we get it very wrong, because we’ve put one person in charge of vast swathes of London’s services, so they better be able to handle it.
This election will come down, ultimately, to Ken Livingstone against Boris Johnson. According to a recent Evening Standard opinion poll – and yes, the Evening Standard have hardly been the most impartial of observers – Boris is currently soaring ahead with 49% of first-preference votes. If he got 50%, he would win outright. Less than 50% and it comes down to second-preference votes being added to the final two candidates.
As funny as he undoubtedly is, Boris is at heart a right-wing Conservative. This is a huge problem given that the most important area of control for the Mayor is transport. However you feel about right-wing Conservatives, I believe they are at their worst when it comes to transport.
But what’s Ken Livingstone’s record on transport? Well, as much as Londoners enjoy complaining about it, you’d be hard-pressed to argue that it hasn’t improved. The Oyster card. 90p buses, and many more of them. Free bus travel for children. A seventh carriage on the Jubilee line. Siverlink taken back into public control with London Overground, which will result in new trains over the next few years. Crossrail given the go-ahead to be built. For god’s sake, the other day TfL even nationalised Croydon Tramlink – the type of headline you really don’t get very often.
Compare this to the £1.50 paper-tickets of buses in Birmingham (sorry) and elsewhere. Compare this to the privatised train companies in London, who have taken years and years to accept Oyster and are still dragging their feet on it. These are reflections of what happens when you let the Conservatives run transport: sold off to the highest bidder, split up and run for profit in natural monopolies which you can’t do anything about. These are Boris Johnson’s core instincts. Would he keep trying to persuade the government to give the Southern franchise to TfL in the next stage of London’s integrated transport? No, of course not – he’d be too busy faffing about with spending hundreds of millions of pounds replacing bendy buses and posing as tough on crime. He hasn’t a clue.
So essentially, I am hopeful that people who value London’s unique transport – and the improvements going into it – turn up to support Ken Livingstone, the man with the track record of change for the better. And I also hope that those who aren’t willing to vote for Ken as their first choice – possibly to support the Lib Dems, for example, who have an excellent candidate – consider at least putting Ken Livingstone as their second choice, to help fight off a Boris victory.