There were two deciding factors in London’s election result in May. Firstly we had a clear demonstration that personality politics can affect big city contests. Secondly, we were reminded of the importance of second preference votes. Under London’s version of the Alternative Vote these can be a deciding factor, we need a strategy to get people to actually cast a second preference for Labour.
Labour made significant gains on the London Assembly going from 8 to 12 members of the 25 seat assembly. We unseated some of Boris’ key lieutenants and came close to removing two more. We should be pleased with the progress we made in the country and across the whole of London in May this year. As Ed Miliband said “we have more work to do to show we can change our country so that it works for…families feeling a squeeze in living standards and everybody rather than just a few at the top.” As Leader of Labour on the London Assembly I’m confident that by working with our colleagues across London we can build on this progress and play our part in returning Labour representatives at all levels of government.
Our opponent Boris Johnson is unconventional and has the gift of coming across as an “anti-politician”. This year he didn’t run as a ‘Conservative’ candidate and had to ditch the Tory brand distancing himself from his party. He is ruthless, doesn’t play by the rules and acts up to the gallery changing his views depending on the audience.
Boris is adept at projecting himself onto the national stage. Be under no illusions, if he becomes leader of the Tory party he will be a real challenge for us to counter. Boris is good at spin and his larger than life persona appears to be liked by many people. However, his main weakness is arrogance. This leads him to being lazy and not focussing on the detail of policy formulation or delivery. This lack of attention to detail and intellectual laziness will be laid bare as London faces real challenges over the coming years. Three of the main challenges are policing, cost-of-living and delivering the Olympic legacy.
The Metropolitan Police is in real trouble, after reaching a peak of 33,200 officers they have lost 1,700 officers in the past two years alone. It is vital that there are enough police officers, as demonstrated by the Olympics and last year’s riots. The Met has a £324 million funding gap, this is largely caused by central government’s 20% cut to the police budget, which means that thousands more officers are at real risk. These cuts mean a reduction in capacity and to policing being less effective, jeopardising public safety.
London’s cost of living crisis continues to get worse with private rents rising by 12% a year – the average is now £1,200 a month. We desperately need a major house-building programme. Electricity and childcare costs are also rising well above inflation. The Mayor is committed to raising transport fares by RPI plus 2%, he has already increased bus fares by 50% and has added hundreds of pounds a year onto people’s travel cards – this is effectively a tax on jobs. The Mayor needs to step back and help reduce fare rises to help working Londoners.
After a successful Olympics, won and delivered by a Labour government, Tessa Jowell MP and former Mayor Ken Livingstone, the real challenge now is to deliver on the legacy promises to increase sporting participation, regenerating the East End and giving our young people hope for the future.
These are not the only challenges facing London, but we will tackle them head on and argue the case for ordinary working families who are really struggling under this Tory-led government. The London Assembly Labour group will continue our work to challenge Boris and develop the policies that are needed to help Londoners.
By taking seats in outer London, like Barnet & Camden and Ealing & Hillingdon, we now have Labour representatives who can take the fight to the Tories across the capital. We will work with colleagues across the London Labour Party to develop an alternative vision for London and campaign in the run-up to the local elections in 2014 and General Election in 2015. The campaign for Mayor and the London Assembly reached all parts of the city, both inner and outer, it is vital that we continue this hard work to ensure success in 2016.
Len Duvall is the London Assembly Member for Greenwich and Lewisham. He is Leader of the Labour Group on the London Assembly.