The Vote For London’s Next Mayor: Does It Really Matter Who Wins?

“Winning an election is a good-news, bad-news kind of thing”. This was the reaction of the American actor & film director Clint Eastwood when he became the Mayor of the small Californian village of Carmel-By-The Sea in 1986. “The bad news”, he reflected “is that now you’re the Mayor”. In other words, from that moment on, the victor would be judged on the extent to which they honoured the commitments made during the campaign. Eastwood, it seems, did quite well during his two years in office – above all, by supporting small business interests and advocating environmental protection measures.

There are already indications, however, that – by contrast – the assessment of Boris Johnson’s eight years as Mayor of London could be far less favourable. His predecessor in the job from 2000-2008, the Labour Party’s Ken Livingstone – who is clearly not a Boris fan – has declared that the current Mayor has done “absolutely nothing” for London and that the “real tragedy is that City Hall has been turned into a vehicle for mounting Boris’s  prime-ministerial ambitions”.

Prime Minister David Cameron’s former Director of Strategy, Steve Hilton (now based at Stanford University in California) told The Guardian in March that he “struggles to see what legacy Johnson will leave behind”. Hilton considers the Mayor of London to be “basically the person who runs the transport system and promotes the capital in a marketing sense”- for both of which he acknowledges Boris “has done a great job”.

The “Politics.co.uk” columnist Adam Bienkov, has drawn up a list of the promises that, in his opinion, Boris has failed to keep, among them: Eradicating rough sleeping on the streets of London, keeping the ticket offices open at all underground stations, not cutting fire engines or fire stations (ten fire stations have been closed and 27 fire engines removed from service), negotiating a “a deal with the Tube unions to end strike actions on the London underground” (the next ones are scheduled for 23/24 March and 19/22 April), not raising the congestion charge (it’s been increased to £11.50) ,and “introducing a bike hire scheme at no cost to the taxpayer” (it continues to operate at a loss).

Boris has responded to these criticisms by emphasizing his achievements, which include “Cutting crime by almost 19%, planting  100,000 street trees in London, nearly doubling cycling numbers and extending the tube for the first time in 15 years as well as proceeding with a series of major new infrastructure projects”.

The contest between the two leading candidates for Mayor of London – Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) – revolves mainly around their housing and transport policies. They both accept that far more “affordable homes” need to be built to cater for London’s growing population but disagree on exactly how best this can be achieved. Bienkov feels that neither of them is being honest about their plans for the underground system. Londoners need to know, he emphasizes, “whether it will be lower fares but lower investment under Khan or higher fares but higher investment under Goldsmith.”

A “YouGov” opinion poll of 14th March has indicated that Khan has a 7% lead over his rival. It also shows that 67% of Londoners want housing to be given priority by the next Mayor and city government, followed by transport (51%), health (35%), policing (31%), economic development and regeneration (26%), fire services and emergency planning (16%), arts and culture (3%).

Whoever wins on 5th May, how much power will he wield? Together with the newly-elected London Assembly members, he will have a budget of £17 billion at his disposal for financing “key areas” of London life such as policing, transport, housing, planning and the environment. As “London Elects” points out, however, it is the local councils not the Mayor who have direct responsibility for “day-to-day services” such as rubbish collection, street clening, parking  permits , council tax collection and schools”.

“Full-Facts.org” describes the “top-line function” of the Mayor as being to “promote London’s economic & social development, wealth creation and environmental improvement”. He can set the annual budget for the GLA (Greater London Authority), but this can be rejected by a two-thirds majority in the London Assembly. The limits to his authority were clearly demonstrated in October 2014, when Home Secretary Theresa May refused to give Boris Johnson permission to use the three water cannons he had bought from the German federal police at a cost of £218,000 to control any future major disturbances on the streets of London.

To vote in the 5th May elections for the Mayor of London and the London Assembly, you must live in London, be at least 18 years old on the day of the elections, be British, Irish, from a European Union country or a Commonwealth citizen “who has or does not require leave to remain in the UK”. If you wish to register, you’ll have to do so by the deadline of 18th April 2016, giving your National Insurance Number, date of birth and address. Being registered with the council for services or paying council tax (advises “London Elects”) “will not automatically include you on the electoral register”.

Filed under: Politics | Posted on March 21st, 2016 by Colin D Gordon

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