On the 10th anniversary of the first ever London Assembly meeting this ‘on this day’ article looks back at the event from the perspective of the time.
The London Assembly, the 25-member body responsible for scrutinising London’s new Mayor Ken Livingstone, met for the first time today (12th May 2000).
The Assembly and Mayor, which collectively comprise the Greater London Authority, were elected earlier this month in London’s first elections for city-wide government in almost 20 years.
With the Authority’s temporary home at Romney House deemed unsuitable as a venue, the meeting took place at the nearby Emmanuel Centre and was opened by Bob Chilton, the Authority’s Interim Head of Paid Service who oversaw the election of a Chair and Deputy Chair.
A coalition of Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat Assembly Members (AMs) ensured Labour’s Trevor Phillips was elected as Chair and LibDem Baroness Sally Hamwee as Deputy Chair.
The Conservative group, which is the largest on the Assembly with 9 AMs, nominated Elizabeth Howlett and Roger Evans respectively for the posts, however each nominee attracted only the votes of their fellow Tory AMs.
The decision of the smaller parties to lock their group out of key roles prompted complaints from Conservative AMs who felt their supporters were effectively being snubbed by a new city-wide administration which is meant to reflect the views of all Londoners.
The meeting’s business was largely technocratic with AMs noting the outcome of this month’s elections, agreeing the membership of sub-committees and arrangements for future meetings.
Conservative AM Roger Evans proposed a motion noting “the opposition of the majority of Londoners to congestion taxes – as demonstrated by their overwhelming support for Assembly candidates who pledged not to introduce such a damaging measure” and which pledged “to oppose on principle any moves to introduce congestion taxes during our term of office.”
The motion was subsequently amended by the other parties to read as follows: “This Assembly notes that the Mayor has powers to introduce congestion charging.
This assembly agrees that it is not against congestion charging in principle, but that, if such charges are introduced, it is important that there are public transport improvements and that the means of operating the charges do not add to the problems of congestion that they are intended to solve.
This Assembly believes that any system of congestion charging proposed by the Mayor must be organised in a proper way that is fair and equitable and operates in the interests of London and Londoners.”
AMs also supported a motion calling on Mayor Livingstone to “waive his right…to withhold advice that he receives” so that the Assembly can better fulfil its scrutiny role.
Although the Assembly cannot make law or force the Mayor to adopt any specific policy, it can question and scrutinise the Mayor’s actions and hold him to account on behalf of Londoners and can also vote to block his annual budget.
Later this month AMs will quiz Mayor Livingstone at the first of the regular Mayor’s Question Time events.
CONTEXT & ANALYSIS
Ken Livingstone’s decision to stand as an independent candidate had electrified the first ever GLA elections and this inaugural Assembly meeting drew a sizeable audience and a large media presence.
The practice of Assembly groups sharing the roles of Chair and Deputy Chair continues to be the norm and remains contentious for some. When Ken Livingstone was re-elected in 2004, this time as a Labour Mayor, the roles were shared between Conservative and Liberal Democrat AMs.
Following Boris Johnson’s election as Mayor of London in 2008 the Conservative Assembly group was again excluded from the Assembly’s top jobs which have so far been held by Labour’s Jennette Arnold and Green Party AM Darren Johnson. In an interview with this site ahead of his expected election as Chair in 2009, Johnson insisted “no-one’s being cheated” by such deals.
At the 2009 London Assembly AGM Conservative AM Richard Barnes made an impassioned plea against the exclusion of his group from the roles and in favour of the nomination of fellow-Tory Victoria Borwick for the role of Deputy Chair.