In the run up to the first Mayoral elections in 2000 I was anything but a Ken Livingstone supporter. Indeed, I even wrote an article in the Evening Standard entitled “London Deserves Better” arguing that neither Ken nor the emerging Conservative candidate at the time (one Jeffrey Archer – before he went to prison) were suitable candidates to be London Mayor.
But that was before I worked with Ken during his first term as Mayor. For those four years, I led the Labour Group on the London Assembly and chaired the Metropolitan Police Authority and I saw at close quarters Ken’s commitment to London, his political courage and determination, and his ability to make things happen.
And a lot did happen. There was the successful introduction of the congestion charge – something that most pundits were convinced would never happen when the provision was first included in the Greater London Authority Bill. It required vision, drive and an attention to detail. And Ken showed that he had all three.
There was the transformation of the bus service in London – so that the capital became the only part of the country where there was a shift of traffic away from other transport modes. And, of course, those four years saw the birth of the Oyster Card – then an innovation, now an integral part of London life.
At the same time, London’s policing was turned round: morale increased; the haemorrhaging of police numbers (which had started under Conservative Home Secretary, Michael Howard) was reversed; Police Community Support Officers were introduced and began their visible patrols all over London, leading to the creation of Safer Neighbourhood Teams in every Council ward in the city; and crime rates that had been increasing for years started to come down.
In Ken’s second term, I was less closely involved. However, all Londoners saw the leadership that successfully won the bid to host the Olympics and Paralympics in 2012 and that brought London together following the terror attacks in July 2005. There was also the leadership shown on climate change, which established London as one of the leading cities in combatting the effects of global warming.
All of this was a big contrast with the Boris Johnson Mayorality, where despite the frequent announcements of “new” initiatives that either turn into damp squibs, like the “Story of London Festival“, or are re-packaged initiatives started under Ken’s period as Mayor. The major so-called success has been the new cycle hire scheme – again originally initiated by Ken – but with the details mismanaged by Boris Johnson and his team – see the analysis by Helen at Boris Watch.
So why should Ken be the candidate in 2012?
The first point to make is that he is the best-qualified candidate. An effective London Mayor must have a coherent vision for London. And this means much more than merely stringing together a series of half-worked-through ideas. Ken has that vision – a vision he has been refining and articulating throughout his political life. What is more London’s Mayor must be committed to the job. It should not be regarded as a stepping stone to some different office (as the current incumbent clearly regards it), nor should it be a consolation prize for someone who has failed in their political career elsewhere. Ken is committed to London and I have already mentioned his political courage and determination, coupled with his ability to make things happen.
The second point is the breadth and clarity about what he would want to achieve for London and Londoners in the next Mayoral term. This includes:
Can he win? ConservativeHome clearly think he can, pointing out that “London isn’t the most hospitable territory for the Tories” and that it “won’t be easy” for Boris Johnson. And as Steve Hart’s detailed analysis has shown the 2008 election:
“took place on a very bad night for Labour ….. one of the worst nights of local election results since before the second world war, with Labour polling 24%. …. On this terrible night for Labour Ken Livingstone actually increased his first preference votes from 685,541 in 2004, to 893,877 in 2008. This was not simply a consequence of a higher poll. He actually increased his share of first preference votes by 1.3% from 35.7 per cent to 37 per cent (the London wide Labour member vote increased by 0.32 per cent to 27.12 per cent, which was 10 per cent behind Ken?s vote).
Any reasonable interpretation of these results would suggest that on virtually any other Thursday of the last five years, Ken would have been likely to win. Ken?s share was higher than Labour achieved on General Election night in London – when the national results had Labour 10 per cent better than in 2008. On this alone, it is clear than Ken was outperforming Labour by a wide margin and also that, to a lesser extent, London Labour outperformed the rest of the country.”
The message is that Ken has consistently out-performed Labour in the elections he has stood in and as Steve Hart concludes:
“The evidence that Ken is a substantial electoral asset across London is substantial, whereas the only evidence regarding Oona is that she has lost a safe seat; and nothing whatsoever suggests that Ken?s rival for the nomination is an asset in any other part of London.”
Now this does not mean that Ken Livingstone is without his flaws – indeed no political leader with any flair ever can be. Nor does it mean that I agree with all the judgements he made during his terms as Mayor (I disagreed, for example, with his decision to extend the original Congestion Charge zone westwards rather than creating a separate zone). However, I am clear that having Ken Livingstone back as London’s Mayor would be good for London and Londoners and that Ken Livingstone is the candidate best-placed to win the Mayorality for Labour and to get rid of the current ill-focused and chaotic regime.