As I’ve said before, I think democracy is best served when candidates for any political nomination or office have to fight for it. That wasn’t the case in 2008 when Labour anointed Ken Livingstone and the Tory and LibDem selections produced huge majorities for the victors.
Until recently my hope has been that would-be candidates for the 2012 Mayoral race might a slightly tougher time of it before being declared the winner. For that reason I read Oona King’s interview in the Independent with a growing sense of deflation.
According to the article, King’s “three key aims” are apparently to make the capital “fairer, less stressful and more ‘liveable’” – on the surface they’re all worthy enough but there’s no detail on how those aims are to be achieved.
Being Mayor, as Boris soon found out, is about far more than making fuzzy comments and moving on to the next photo-op. There isn’t a single ‘lever of power’ which makes simply and quickly London fairer otherwise it’d have been pulled years ago and we’d live in utopia.
The capital is a huge, complex community of clashing cultures, personalities and ambitions. Making it fair for all will require vast amounts of effort, money and detailed, targeted policy. To promise change without saying how it’s to be achieved is to risk looking like a lightweight undeserving of serious consideration.
In the interview King offers these insights into her thinking on the role of Mayor:
“She proposes giving the mayor new responsibility for driving up schools standards, guaranteeing paid work experience for school-leavers and refurbishing pensioners’ homes in return for a small stake in their property’s equity. She also wants to limit the mayor to two terms in office.”
As much as I’m in favour of expanding the Mayor’s role into education, housing and health, doing so requires primary legislation which means they can’t be policy areas on which candidates for the post can run. She might also want to note that Tory and LibDem Peers unsuccessfully tried to introduce a term limit during the passage of the 2007 Greater London Authority Act.
King needs to be setting out ideas she can implement on day one, not vague aspirations which rely on a politically hostile Parliament setting aside time to legislate so she can deliver a manifesto.
Future would-be Mayors can learn a lot from Boris’s ability within days to be seen delivering his promised ban on booze on the Tube. The PR rewards for Johnson in being seen to have gotten straight down to work were vast – even if much of the credit belonged to TfL officials who found a way to let Boris have his early success.
Any successor needs a raft of similar policies which can be quickly implemented in the days after their victory. By definition such policies have to be focused on the Mayor’s powers as they stand at the time of the 2012 election.
I know some readers think I’m anti-King, I’m not.
As I’ve already said, if she doesn’t win Labour’s nomination I want Oona to come so close to doing so that Ken Livingstone has had to work for every single last vote and can’t be certain of victory until the result is finally declared. The same’s true of course if she should emerge as the Labour candidate but the crucial difference is that Livingstone hardly needs chiding into fighting to the last for the nomination – he’s already been campaigning for last 25 months.
Labour needs to have the closest, most fiercely contested selection if their eventual candidate is going to be able to look the wider Londoner electorate in the eye and honestly say they earned their place on the final ballot against Boris.
Not only does a tight contest guarantee legitimacy in the final race but it’ll help prepare Labour’s successful candidate for what will be a very tough challenge in unseating Mayor Johnson.