I hadn’t intended to write much about George Galloway’s mayoral bid, his and Respect’s past performance in City Hall elections means he has no measurable chance of winning next May.
But Galloway’s first policy commitment – the merger of the City of London police and the Metropolitan police – is a good example of something that I’ve been meaning to comment on for a few weeks.
The Mayor has no control over the City of London or its police force. He cannot abolish, reform, merge or takeover either of them.
Galloway’s police merger is therefore dead on arrival. Even if he somehow defied electoral reality and succeeded Boris, there’s no power or mechanism by which he could deliver on his promise.
And yet the pledge gets repeated without any challenge in today’s Evening Standard which does its readers a massive disservice in not pointing out the sheer undeliverability of it.
Other candidates have enjoyed, from a variety of commentators and outlets who all know better, similarly uncritical coverage both of non-starter policies and empty vows to lobby for powers the current Government simply won’t hand over.
If elected, Gareth Thomas would never be allowed to turn Transport for London into a co-operative where we all get a seat around the board table – bad news for American hedge funds hoping to take control in a few years time when mismanagement and lack of effective oversight send it the same way as the Co-Op’s bank.
And Mayor Sadiq Khan would spend his entire first term being refused the power to cap rents that has so excited some of his backers. Yet this policy has taken centre stage in a series of articles covering his bid, none of which bother the reader with the troublesome fact that there’s no chance it would bear fruit before he had to seek re-election in 2020.
These fantasy policies aren’t of course confined to candidates on the left.
Would-be Tory mayor Ivan Massow wasted everyone’s time, especially his own, pushing the idea that he’d turn City Hall into “a place where our homeless and some of the city’s dispossessed who are now in care can live.”
Picky types who pointed out that the building is rented and the landlords aren’t going to agree to such a radical a change of use were told by Massow’s supporters that these mere facts didn’t matter and that “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”
Massow has also pledged to introduce “tough guidelines about dealing with bad social housing tenants, so that those who fail to respect their community and their environment will be evicted and be considered to have made themselves intentionally homeless.”
But social housing tenants and their landlords don’t answer to the Mayor who has no power to decide how problem tenants are dealt with or insist on the eviction of anyone.
For all the pride we feel in London, its openness, tolerance and opportunities, there’s still plenty wrong with the city and much to be fixed. Addressing growing inequality, the housing crisis and the rising cost of living has be the focus of whoever is elected next year.
But advocating lazy, ill-researched and sometimes frankly bullshit policies does nothing to address these issues. All indulging such pronouncements achieves is to let candidates off lightly and mislead voters, many of whom will end up even more disillusioned with politics when these impossible things never happen.
No matter how exciting an idea might seem, if it relies on the victor spending 2 years lobbying ministers and – assuming they’re successful – another 12 months waiting for parliament to legislate, it’s the wrong solution for the urgent problems of today.
So let’s leave ‘thinking outside the box’ and ‘blue sky thinking’ to the writers of W1A and have a debate about London’s problems and their solutions which is centred around things the mayor can do within their existing powers from the moment they take office.
That way we might actually achieve something.