What kind of Mayor does London need?

7th November, 2014 5:49 pm

Labour’s NEC has just agreed the timetable for the selection of the Party’s candidate for London Mayor in 2016. The process will kick in within days of the General Election with a candidate selected on the new more open process by the end of July next year. No doubt if Boris Johnson decided to go early (so that he would be “available” to stand for the Tory Leadership in the event of a Cameron defeat), this would trigger a Mayoral by-election on the same day as the General Election and an expedited NEC-led selection would be needed.

So it is worth thinking now about the job of London Mayor and what characteristics an effective Labour candidate should have.

I start with a declaration of bias: London is the greatest city in the world. It is amazing and complex with over eight million residents and rising, 13 million overseas visitors each year and 2.5 million cars. But what makes it different is its diversity, dynamism, tolerance of difference and its vitality of culture.

However, the story of London is also a Tale of Two Cities. It is the most unequal region of the UK with the top 10% richest Londoners being 273 times wealthier than the bottom 10%. 700,000 people in work earn less than the Living Wage and the poverty rate for children in Inner London is 44% higher than any other UK region. And this has a huge impact on health and life chances. For example, men’s life expectancy ranges from 71 years in the Tottenham Green ward in the Borough I used to lead to 88 years in Queen’s Gate ward in Kensington and Chelsea.

London’s next Mayor must have a vision for London that tackles that inequality and fosters sustainable growth that can support the rest of the UK economy. A laissez-faire approach simply will not work.

Muddling and bumbling through, relying on a witticism and a Latin tag will not do as an approach to the issues facing our capital city.

missing mayor

The next Mayor must build consensus that social equity is a necessary component of London’s future economic development and prosperity. This means forging partnership between local government and other parts of the public sector with business and with the community and voluntary sector.

The office of Mayor carries huge democratic authority. She or he has the third largest personal democratic mandate in Europe (only exceeded by the Presidents of France and Portugal). Our next Mayor must use that elected authority to bring people round the table, persuade and cajole them to support that more inclusive vision for London, and use the bully pulpit of elective mandate to deliver over and above the statutory powers of the office.

Governing London is hard work. The job of Mayor is not for the faint-hearted, the tired or the lazy. It is not a job for those who see it as a cushy comfortable coda to a lifetime of public service. It is not a job to be offered by a Party Leader as a consolation prize to a figure disappointed by their prospects of national office.

Nor is the job of Mayor for those whose real focus is on where the role may take them next: the job is too big for the incumbent to spend their time eyeing someone else’s.

Any Mayor has to have a sustained commitment to hard work and tough choices in the pursuit of the sustainable city not just for 2020 and the end of the next Mayoral term. They must recognise and accept that their initiatives may only bear fruit over the next twenty to thirty years but that their vision and commitment is necessary for the future prosperity of the city even if they will not be there to reap the credit.

And London’s next Mayor must have real experience of running something substantial: a government department as a senior minister, a London Borough as a Leader or Mayor, or perhaps a major enterprise as its Chief Executive.

Being a celebrity, a chat show host, or a sofa guest on a televised pundits panel is not enough. London needs a Mayor who is a doer not just a talker.

The Mayor’s task is to deliver a profound contribution to the quality of life of all citizens and to their children’s prospects for prosperity and security. It is not a part-time role.

London’s next Mayor must be someone with vision for the city, who cares about London far more than about him or her self.

London’s next Mayor must be far-sighted with an understanding of the long-term infrastructure requirements that ought to be planned now even if they will not be finally constructed until 2040.

London’s next Mayor must be a consensus-builder, someone who unites rather than divides, someone who understands and wants to work with all the sections of London’s society and economy.

London has twice elected maverick figures and the next Mayor will need to demonstrate that they are more than just Party loyalists, but are individuals who have a track record of challenging the status quo, standing up to the powerful, and challenging national government (even if that national government is led by their own Party).

It is one hell of a person spec for one hell of a job. Fortunately, Labour is blessed with some hugely impressive potential candidates.

Over the next few months, they must articulate their vision and demonstrate what they will do to ensure that London continues to make its contribution to the nation, Europe and the world, but above all does so as a capital city with a human heart that values and nurtures all its citizens, whether they are young or old, rich or poor, black or white, and whatever their background.

Londoners deserve nothing less.

Lord Toby Harris is a former London Borough Leader, the first Chair of what is now London Councils and was Labour Group Leader on the London Assembly.

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