Damian Hockney stood as a candidate in the first London Mayor elections, in 2000 and was elected to the London Assembly in 2004. He is Leader of the One London Party at the Assembly, the only political group dedicated solely to London issues, and is likely to be the party’s mayoral candidate on 1st May.
Here he discusses why he’s so concerned that public meetings and media coverage focus on ‘main candidates’ in an election which claims to be about individuals:
“It wouldn’t be democratic to include you on the panel”. Those were the astonishing words which greeted me, a declared candidate, for the first London Mayor election in 2000, when I tried ever so politely to get onto the platform at a hustings at St Paul’s Cathedral. This was my first taste of the strange world of Mayoral politics, where “celebrity” chancers can declare themselves candidates and be given media time, but allowing genuine candidates a platform is considered undemocratic.
Is it right for candidates to be told that it is “undemocratic” for them to be allowed to state their views in a public hustings if they have been nominated, adopted, paid their £10,000 deposit and got their 300-odd signatures from every London borough? The party I was standing for had recently won three seats at the European Elections, had a popular view that ‘devolution’ was in fact centralisation of power, and had a manifesto for London. But no. It still wouldn’t be “democratic” for me to be on the panel.
But it’s the perverse logic of the response, the almost desparate clinging to any excuse to avoid including “others” which is most worrying. And it leads directly to loss of interest among voters and a low turnout. It happened everywhere during that election, and indeed in the last one as well in 2004. Another good example was when ITV in London had a TV special on the South Bank. We were told that it would “cause trouble” if others like us were featured or even mentioned.
Perhaps the best example of all was the Hampstead hustings where the panel included Mayoral candidate Malcolm McLaren. Malcolm McLaren? Yes, don’t you remember? The former Sex Pistols svengali had had a bit of puff coverage in the Sunday supplements six months before, saying that he might stand. By the time of the Hampstead event he had pulled out long since, while we had paid our deposit, got all our hundreds of signatories etc etc. We contacted the organisers early, having seen an advance notice and asked for a place on the panel. “There’s no room”. Our response was, so why are you including someone who’s already said he won’t, er, actually, be taking part in the Mayor election? They didn’t quite know how to answer that one.
It was awkward interrogating the organisers, because you knew that they were just trying to make it interesting by having a celeb on the panel as well as the ‘main candidates’. But the problem with this is that the Mayor election is officially an election about individuals and not parties. In fact when we came to do our pages for the 2000 election booklet, we had all references to the party and Assembly candidates censored out other than the logo. “It’s about individuals, this election,” we kept being told. “Not parties”. Fine, but if it is decided that there are Main Candidates (on the basis of parties) and that others should not be heard, there is a problem.
And the main problem after considerations of democracy and fairness is that it is so boring. I’m not sure how many saw the ITV Mayoral debate recently, shoved (unlisted) into the graveyard slot in the wee hours when life is at its lowest ebb. In early January. What a tiresome, pitiful rehearsal of how these Main Candidates will all avoid discussing specifics during the actual campaign. Platitudes, rabbit-out-of the-hat responses (specially from Johnson and Paddick) and uncosted promises.
We in the One London Party have not declared yet, so I can make no complaint about not being invited on, but why not Sian Berry of the Greens? Ditto Gerard Batten of UKIP – the party polled more votes than the LibDems in 2004 and has also stood at every Mayor and Assembly election. They have both been declared by their parties and would have made the programme at least a little less dull.
When the 2000 Mayoral Election suddenly sank in the first week into a kind of state-induced torpor, with acres of dull reportage trying to hype excitement around Main Candidates whose only interest was in being safe, we predicted a turnout of one in three at most. Everyone disagreed, saying this was the most exciting thing ever – but it was so obvious that the public engagement just wasn’t there. It says something that in 2000 and 2004, most of the people I work with at my publishing company had no understanding of how the election worked – as it was effectively hijacked by the system, it was of no interest to them at all. And that was when there were some differences! But this time? The Tories have selected Ken-Lite (keep the C-Charge but tinker with it, and replicate that approach for everything else) and the LibDem guy frankly is clearly uncomfortable with running for office, and is visibly overwhelmed by the enormity of the brief.
But of course, I have worked at City Hall for almost four years as an Assembly Member. I see what the Mayor can and cannot do. And most importantly I know the cost to the London taxpayer that every policy statement entails. And this of course is why it is already turning into a dull dull election – the other Main Candidates have no expreience of London government, and are out of their depth on financial issues.
So unless other candidates are given a chance, it will be an election with 3 members of the LibLabCon party mouthing similar platitudes, avoiding specifics and scoring points off each other.