An Unnecessary Role

embracing false choices

I’m not here to make friends

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As someone who takes the label of Blairite as a compliment and would place himself firmly on the moderate, pragmatic, localist wing of the Labour Party, I am not a natural cheerleader for Ken Livingstone. But I, and the overwheming majority of the London Labour Party, voted for him to be our Mayoral candidate. He was and remains the only viable candidate with the ability to win the Mayoralty back for Labour.

Ken, like most of us, has flaws that are many and varied. But he outshines Boris Johnson (and outshone Oona King) in one crucial but what should be obvious respect – he has always known what the job of Mayor is. I don’t mean this as a cheap shot – Boris is an intelligent, (generally) engaged and warm politician, not the blithering dilettante some opponents characterise him as. But I suspect he entered the game thinking that being Mayor of London was quite a different prospect to what it has turned out to be.

The rhetoric often paints the Mayoralty as a vague, almost abstract city leadership position that ‘runs London’, but the vast majority of on-the-ground services are delivered by the borough councils. The Mayor uses the levers at his disposal to make strategic decisions to develop London’s economy, maintain and improve its transport infrastructure, and influence planning, regeneration and housing development. He makes plans and policies relating to the environment, culture and health inequalities.  Oh, and he’s also in charge of the police.

If that sounds complicated, that’s because it is. The election of Mayor is too easily reduced to the search for a ‘name’, a celebrity Mayor capable of bringing a little sparkle to the city through charisma alone. (What else explains the continued presence of Lembit Opik in the 2012 race?) What the specific role of Mayor requires, though, is a gifted city administrator that can use a clear set of political priorities to navigate the complex environment of London governance to make a better future for this city.

That message is a hard sell, especially when coverage of London politics rarely explores the nuances of the system, but with Ken as the candidate we have at least got the fundamentals right. And I didn’t come here to make friends, I came to win.

(Photo by Flickr user Boris Mitendorfer).


Written by samelliot

May 31, 2011 at 7:32 pm

Posted in London

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