The Conservatives won the largest number of directly elected seats on the Assembly but, due to the ‘top up’ element are not the largest party. Do you therefore feel that changes should be made to the electoral system?
The variant of proportional representation used to elect the Assembly was always going to result in a hung authority and anyone who contested the election had to be prepared to work with other parties. That in itself is not a problem particularly for a body which has a scrutiny function.
However I do object to the way that our Liberal and Labour colleagues got together to carve up the jobs within days of the election. They have a written agreement to share power, giving the Liberal Democrats the chair of the Budget Committee and sharing the Chair and Deputy Chair of the Assembly between them. The Conservatives are shut out of the administration along with the Greens.
Not only is this unfair, it also perpetuates rule by the same people for life. If voters cannot change the political outlook of the GLA then turnout will continue to fall, which none of us wants.
Either proportional representation should be reflected in a proportional sharing of power between all parties or we should return to first past the post based on existing GLA constituencies with 2 members each. This would give an assembly of 28 members, usually Labour controlled. More rarely it would be Conservative controlled and the Liberals would hold the balance of power on the occasions that the Assembly was hung. The only problem would be the exclusion of the Greens, but they have also shown that they can win first past the post elections.
Nationally your party is seen as less than inclusive yet London is one of the most diverse cities in the West. How do you explain your strong showing in elections for AM’s as well as Norris’s second place result?
We were pleased with the result in 2000. In my experience we did well because Labour was divided. Much of their election machine ended up working for Ken and the remainder was demoralised and less active than usual. There was also a large protest vote. Many of Ken’s voters also appeared to vote for Conservative AM’s.
I feel that the Conservative image has become something of an undeserved cliché particularly in London. On my own patch Redbridge is 28% Asian and this is reflected in the local party membership. For some time we have had Asian councillors and the 2002 election saw victories for black Conservatives and more young people elected.
This is important, not because we can boast about inclusivity, but because new colleagues bring valuable experience and ideas with them. I believe that the best thing we can offer minority communities is an alternative to a Labour party which increasingly takes their support for granted.
Is democracy really being served when parties can simply slot new representatives into place rather than hold a by election?
This is one of the least attractive features of election by the list system. The examples tell their own story.
In 2000 David Lammy was elected from the Labour party list. When the Tottenham by election came along later that year he resigned to fight this safe seat and subsequently went on to become a Health Minister. Good for him but there was no by-election for his replacement.
Likewise Liberal Democrat member Louise Bloom resigned earlier this year to move away from London. There was no by election for her replacement.
Yet if any of the 14 constituency members resigned there would be a by election. The electoral system creates a two tier assembly and denies the public the opportunity to choose new representatives.
Is it acceptable for Westminster to impose PPP on London when Londoners so clearly rejected it? Isn’t it now time Livingstone was handed control of the Tube?
Ken and the rest of us fought an election in 2000 which largely focussed on the state of the Underground and our plans for it. Two years on most people are amazed to learn that the system has not yet been handed over to the GLA.
Most Londoners agree that PPP is unacceptable because it repeats many of the errors of rail privatisation. Whilst the government never miss an opportunity to make political capital out of Railtrack they have failed to grasp the more valuable opportunity to learn from its failings.
Even if Ken disagrees with Blair, the Tube should still be handed over to the GLA – that is what true devolution is all about.
In stark contrast to its coverage of the Mayor the media has not focused very much on the workings of the assembly? Why do you think that is?
Generally I think the standard of political journalism is dire in this country but the GLA suffers particularly. There is almost nothing in the national press and the Evening Standard. The only national paper to give us half decent coverage is the Guardian.
Good places for GLA news are specialist local government publications and LBC radio which features Assembly Members regularly. The BBC’s Metropol also covers the GLA but is restricted to Sunday lunchtime. My local papers are much better and give me the opportunity to explain how our work affects local people.
Sadly I think that this reflects public apathy. Politicians need to demonstrate how they actually change the lives of voters and how people can become more involved.
Do you think it acceptable for a Mayor elected on an independent platform to seek readmission to any political party?
Morally the situation is tricky. 25% of Conservative supporters and almost half of Liberal Democrat supporters chose to vote for Ken and the Green Party gave him their backing. They would have felt cheated and let down if he had been readmitted by Labour.
Ken is by nature a loner, not a team player, and he probably doesn’t belong in anybody’s team.
Certain boroughs have mounting vigorous opposition to the congestion charge and appear to have your party’s support. Don’t you accept that simply asking commuters to leave their cars behind has not worked and that the time has come for some element of compulsion?
Westminster Council straddles the congestion charge boundary and they took the Mayor to judicial review on the grounds that he gave insufficient consideration to the effects on the communities that the scheme will divide. This action reflected the concern of their local residents about projected increases in pollution and rat running. It was not politically inspired – the independent Kennington residents association also took action and Labour MP Kate Hoey has expressed her concerns.
There are clearly potential problems around the edges of the congestion charging zone and Ken needs to find a solution to them. Further out of town the charge, if successful, will cause more parking in residential streets as commuters take to the railways around the GLA boundary. Many of these services are already crowded to capacity and ill prepared to take on the extra passengers.
I don’t accept that we need congestion charging but if we must have it and if it is actually going to make a difference, surely Ken should improve public transport before forcing drivers out of their cars? Otherwise it just becomes another tax.
Would you accept that abolition rather than reform of the GLC was a mistake? How has the lack of a single voice for London damaged this city?
A lot of Londoners look back to the time of the GLC with rose tinted glasses. After its abolition London continued to advance and saw a huge increase in jobs and population during the nineties – without a Mayor. We became a cultural capital with award winning artists, the Tate Modern, the London Eye – without a Mayor. The financial sector grew and Docklands was redeveloped – without a Mayor.
But we were often told that a ‘voice for London’ was needed. The voice we were promised, would help us to get prestige events like the Olympics and would reverse the shift of government funding away from the capital. But in reality Ken has been unable to resolve these problems.
We might have a voice now but we still need the government to listen when that voice speaks. The capital of any country should be the jewel in its crown – especially if that capital is London – and the government needs to understand this.
Where do you see the GLA being in 10 or 15 years. What powers do you think it may have or should have acquired by then?
I hope we will have taken on the Tube by then, albeit that PPP will restrict the things we can actually change.
Control over the police should also be strengthened. At present the Commissioner makes operational decisions, the Police Authority sets policy, the Mayor sets the budget and the Home Secretary intervenes over national issues. Control is confused and responsibility difficult to apportion. I believe we need to abolish the police authority, giving the GLA direction of policy as well as funding. Policing on trains and the Tube should also be taken over by the Met to provide better coordination of crime fighting.
Sadly, I suspect that councils will lose powers to the GLA in the long run. This would reflect the development of City government in New York and might eventually see the number of local councils reduced. Local people could lose their influence and need to be on their guard against such developments.
In 150 words or less how has London most benefited from the establishment of the GLA?
Frankly, it’s a mixed bag. The strategic approach to transport and to planning are to be welcomed. I am especially pleased to see the Crossrail project resurrected and I look forward to the completion of a new railway running from East to West which will take pressure off the overcrowded Central Line and provide additional trains for my constituents in Ilford and Romford.
The night bus service has also improved hugely, making late nights in town a more attractive proposition.
The Assembly has done good work scrutinising the Mayor and raising issues in its own right. In particular the review of green spaces and the investigation of public transport in Outer London produced proposals to help the suburbs from what is often seen as a ‘zone 1’ authority.