Last night Labour held the second of their official Mayoral selection hustings with Oona King and Ken Livingstone facing questions from party members on a range of issues including crime, housing, congestion and the environment.
(Telegraph London editor Andrew Gilligan has a write up of Thursday’s first debate.)
It was on the issues of congestion and London’s environment that the Mayoral hopefuls gave answers I think merit further discussion.
When Livingstone officially launched his candidacy (a mere two years after he first started campaigning for his old job back) I spoke to him and key players in his team about the need to offer voters something more than the manifesto they’d rejected in 2008 (I wrote more about this at the time). All the noises coming out of Team Ken was that they understood the need to offer more than a ‘greatest hits’ manifesto.
That being so, some may be concerned to hear that last night he promised a key priority would be to implement the £25 charge “on the most polluting vehicles” which he’d championed last time around and which successor Boris Johnson dropped at the behest of luxury car makers.
Now, it may be that the threat of fines for breaching EU clean air targets helps make it easier to sell, but I remain to be convinced Londoners will be any more willing to embrace the policy than they were at the last election.
When you factor in his commitment to re-introducing the 50% affordable housing rule, Livingstone risks looking like he’s simply hankering after the past. His next policy announcements really need to take him into new, unchartered territory if he’s to stop that accusation from sticking.
In response to a question about congestion, Oona advocated a school bus system to help get cars off the road. The idea is likely to be popular with some – not least those who dislike the presence of unruly groups of youths on public buses – but there was no detail of how the policy would operate.
In fairness, candidates were limited to one minute to answer each question which doesn’t allow for hugely deep exploration of policies, but there was no mention of costs and no suggestion that research had been carried out into how many private cars it’d remove versus the number of additional vehicles needed on the streets to run the scheme.
Plus, despite telling ourselves we’re a world class city, we can’t even run Dial-a-Ride properly. In comparison to any school bus scheme this is a fairly small scale service yet it’s been plagued by service failures for years leading to a series of critical reports and user complaints.
As I said above, Ken needs to work at offering fresh, new policies if he’s to avoid looking like yesterday’s man but Oona has her own challenge in needing to sound more like she understand how London operates.
I’ve taken a bit of flak from some Oona supporters – Twitter users and email correspondents wrongly scenting bias can be relentless – for suggesting she needs to do better but last night all the citing of precedent, figures and fact seemed to come from her rival.
Ken of course has the advantage of having been Mayor – though this carries the electoral disadvantage of leaving him open to the sentiment of having had his turn – meaning he knows all the right names and statistics to drop into any answer.
But, and no matter how much Oona supporters wish or believe otherwise, vague references to fairness and making things better can leave her looking a little lacking in comparison. Team King need to acknowledge and address this.
Labour members who don’t get along to any of the hustings may like to know that, on the strength of what I saw last night and reports of Thursday’s event, their party is having a good natured contest which should at least make it easier for the unsuccessful candidate to join their former rival on the campaign trail.
If, as many expect, the defeated candidate is Oona, Labour bosses may like to consider ensuring her a place on their list of ‘top up’ London wide Assembly candidates. Whatever the outcome, this is Boris and Ken’s last Mayoral contest and Labour will need an eager and bright contender for 2016.