The Mayor of London has the biggest electoral mandate of any elected politician in the UK, controls a budget of £10 billion to spend on policing, transport, housing and fire safety, and sets the tone and direction for one of the world’s truly global cities. It’s an important job, and can make a real difference to living standards for millions of Londoners. And I think we deserve somebody who’s going to take the job seriously.
After four years of inactivity and PR bluster from Boris Johnson it’s time London had a Mayor who genuinely cares about this city and understands how to use the Mayoralty to achieve real change. Between 2000 and 2008 London was transformed by a Mayor with the vision and skill to take a city of 7 million people pulling in 7 million directions and turn it back into the best city in the world. If Londoners elect Ken Livingstone on May 3rd, I know he can do it again.
As Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone didn’t just have a vision, he backed it up with a real passion for the job, and a flair for management and detail that saw him successfully deliver an impressive list of achievements that Boris Johnson simply can’t match. The London Living Wage, Oyster cards, the best bus network in Europe, the TFL upgrade that is future proofing London’s transport system, the introduction of police Safer Neighbourhood Teams, the succesful 2012 Olympic bid, the congestion charge that reduced pollution and made it easier to get around, more journeys by bike, foot and public transport than ever before… the list goes on. Ken got London, and he made it work.
But Londoners need more than an administrator – they need someone who can lead and unify – who can speak with a voice that Londoners recognise as one of their own, who cares about the issues they care about and will use their power to make life just a little bit easier. And they need someone to lead them when times are difficult and people are frightened. People know what Ken stands for, and what he stands up for – the marginalised, the vulnerable, the ordinary Londoner struggling to get by with increasing fares and housing costs.
His record of campaigning on equalities and civil rights campaigning in London is second to none, and important. It’s made London the city it is today – tolerant, respectful, welcoming – a city I am proud to call home. As the leader of the GLC Ken was campaigning for gay rights and equality when the Conservative Party Boris Johnson represents was introducing Section 28. As Mayor of London he introduced the first register to recognise same-sex partnerships, an important stepping-stone towards the introduction of civil partnerships.
As human rights lawyer I acted for many black Londoners who had been victims of discrimination by the police and other authorities – Ken championed the communities that had previously felt ignored by the ‘establishment’, helping to provide them with a voice and a stake in our city. Under Ken, a progressive Mayor committed to equality, we had the introduction of festivals in Trafalgar Square for Diwali, Visakhi, Simcha and Chinese New Year, and the Rise festival, a celebration of London’s diversity presenting a clear message of unity and anti-racism – one of Boris Johnson’s first acts was to cancel that festival.
And what of the big moments, when London needs a leader? On 7/7 Ken Livingstone was thousands of miles away in Singapore, where he’d just helped secure the Olympics for London in 2012. His speech in the aftermath of the terror attacks in London was raw and powerful, and spoke to us all when he called for ‘one London’ to unite in condemnation of the criminal acts we’d had inflicted on us. Satisfied he could stay in touch with the authorities in London as they responded to the attacks he got on the first plane home, and led the recovery effort – helping to piece London back together and making it stronger than ever before.
In 2008 I asked myself what Boris Johnson would do as Mayor if Londoners were faced with a similar trauma on his watch – and last summer as London burned and 999 calls went unanswered by our overstretched and under resourced police forces I got my answer – nothing.
‘Nothing’ is a common theme with Boris – it pops up a lot when those who know about how London works are asked about his record in office.
The former head of the community safety unit at the GLA, who worked there for 6 years, slammed Boris Johnson for doing ‘virtually nothing’ to tackle youth crime (it was dismissed as a ‘black issue’).
When two cyclists were killed at the Bow Roundabout in East London on one of the Mayor’s ‘cycle superhighways’, and thousands of cyclists called for action on improving road safety, Boris Johnson did nothing until it became too politically embarrassing for him not to act.
‘Nothing’ is the 56 affordable houses built in London in the last 6 months when we need tens of thousands. Nothing is ignoring record levels of air pollution and the threat this poses to public health. Nothing is accepting government cuts to Transport for London’s budget and agreeing to decades of inflation busting fare rises. Nothing is campaigning for a tax cut for the richest while ordinary Londoners struggle to pay their rent.
On the London segment of The Politics Show this week the Mayor’s chair was empty – with a week to go until the Mayoral election and a four year record to defend (or show-off) Boris Johnson sent his deputy along in his place. Doesn’t that tell you everything you need to know about Boris Johnson and his promise to Londoners for the next four years?
Ken Livingstone is promising Londoners a 7% cut in fares, 1700 police back on the streets, the reintroduction of EMA for young people, childcare support, a London Living Rent campaign, a London-wide lettings agency to help cut rents and tackle rogue landlords, a city where cyclist and pedestrians safety are put ahead of speeding up our roads, where the Mayor of London is answerable on tackling crime and improving our city and doesn’t dodge the difficult questions.
If Ken Livingstone can only deliver 1/10th of that it will be more than Boris Johnson has achieved in the last four years. I know Ken can do it, and that’s why I’m going to vote for him on Thursday. I hope Londoners will join me and vote for a Mayor who’ll put London first again.