May 1st, May Day, will see one of the tightest and most important elections to hit London for some years. The election of London Mayor is being hotly contested between Ken Livingstone for Labour and Boris Johnson for the Tories.
Does this election matter? Well yes it does. When the position of Mayor of London was created by Labour following its election in 1997 with the stated intention of returning sizeable sectors of London government to local control, power was placed not in the hands of an elected council but under the sole control of one person. Many of the powers that had been exercised by the old Greater London Council (GLC), abolished by Thatcher in the 1980s, were now to be controlled by the Mayor alone with the newly elected Greater London Authority (GLA) only operating as a powerless inspectorate and budget setter.
Given the huge scope and financial multi-billion pound clout of the Mayor’s office – more than some countries – the government has ended up creating one of the most powerful political positions in Europe let alone the UK. In the first 2 elections – held in 2000 and 2004 – ‘Red Ken’ Livingstone, the former leader of the GLC, won easily, the first time as an independent following New Labour’s efforts to stop him being the Labour candidate and the second time as the official Labour candidate.
During his eight years in office, he has carried out a number of reforms, which marks him out somewhat from the general trend of New Labour, which has carried out mainly counter-reforms. People can rightly point to measures such as better deals for public transport, action on climate change and pollution, more social housing being made available, wider recognition of London’s diverse communities and so on. His support for President Chavez and the Venezuelan revolution is also to be welcomed as is his consistent opposition to the war in Iraq.
Despite this, he has found himself trailing in some polls to the Tory in the run up to May 1st. How can this be? Well first it should be noted that Johnson has had a massively well-funded campaign with a lot of money being spent before the official start of the campaign, where limits then apply.
To this must be added the long-standing campaign which has been waged against Livingstone by the reactionary Evening Standard, which as London’s only capital wide newspaper (excluding the freebies) operates from a strong position. Every day they are carrying page after page of stories attacking Livingstone and uncritically praising Johnson.
Central to the Standard’s campaign over the last few months have been accusations of cronyism and corruption inside the Mayor’s office. Whatever the truth about all this – and cronyism has always been a by-product of the Mayoral system of government both here and in other countries – the intention is to ensure that if enough mud is thrown then some will stick. We would demand that if there are any questions to be answered then it should be the Labour movement which does the investigation not the likes of the Standard, acting as judge and jury.
In particular the resignation of adviser Lee Jasper has hit the Livingstone campaign hard. The Standard has won a scalp. But whatever the Standard insinuates, the police have found that Lee Jasper has no case to answer.
It should also be noted that Livingstone’s tendency to veer to the right politically has not helped his re-election campaign. In particular his attacks on the rail unions for taking industrial action has alienated a number of key supporters.
Others have been put off by his uncritical support for the leadership of the Met police following the ‘shoot to kill’ murder of John Charles De Menezies at Stockwell tube station. The way that the London Olympics is being used as a cash cow by developers has also been noted. Livingstone should be reminded that if you call yourself a socialist then you must act like one all of the time. Otherwise you stand in danger of being grouped in with the rest of New Labour and therefore suffering the same drop in support currently being suffered by Gordon Brown and the rest of the government.
Despite all this, Livingstone must be supported in his campaign to be re-elected as London Mayor. At the end of the day it comes down to Labour versus Tory, Livingstone versus Johnson – no other option matters. We should be clear that Johnson is a reactionary representative of his class who will hand London over to the developers, carry out measures aimed at the middle class whilst ignoring the deprived in inner London boroughs, cut funding to key projects, destroy public transport and provide more benefits to big business at our expense. Do not be fooled by his village idiot act.
Some liberals, with a small L, have – under pressure from the effects of the smear campaign – come forward and said that they cannot vote for Livingstone. These people should be told – there is no middle ground. It is Tory versus Labour. The labour movement must act now to keep Johnson out and stop the likes of the Evening Standard from scoring a big blow against the workers of London.
London can only be a secure base for Labour when the Labour Party decides to implement socialist policies that benefit the working class.
This article first appeared on Socialist Appeal.
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This post was written by Steve Jones