ou’d think the race for mayor of Europe’s biggest city would be a more colourful and stimulating affair. With the Olympics only four years away, the transport infrastructure a shambles and quality of life on the slide the campaign platforms for London’s mayoral candidates should make for riveting reading.
You might expect one candidate to offer a radical scheme to protect family enterprises by introducing strict anti-chain-store zoning laws. In another corner a party standing up and announcing that if voted into office they’d privatise the police force and let security companies bid for the job. At the extreme right perhaps there’d be a candidate proposing a return to caning at poorly performing state schools. Sadly, the reading and viewing’s been far from engaging. The same can be said of most mayoral races in major cities of late.
It would be easy to blame just the candidates but there is a host of other factors contributing to the absence of debate, even excitement, around the May 1 elections in London. A lack of challenging, responsible local media outlets is part of the problem. The failure to recognise that the capital is also intimately connected to the rest of the world makes up the balance. While the world’s biggest cities have a moral responsibility to deal with issues on their own doorsteps, they increasingly have a responsibility to play bigger roles internationally. Unfortunately, few of them manage to elect leaders who are ready for long haul.
There’s a laundry list of urgent actions that need to be tackled in and around London but few, if any, of the candidates have a clear vision how to prioritise, let alone solve them. Getting out and seeing more of the world might help. Just when Heathrow, London’s main hub and economic artery, needs to expand rather than stagnate, Mayor Ken Livingstone came out against the construction of a third runway.
Playing the rather cheap and easy Heathrow card is not only petty politicking but also demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of the role London will need to play in the years to come. No doubt Mr Livingstone failed to notice the Japanese fact-finding mission that recently descended on the City of London to learn a few tricks about building a better financial centre.
Sponsored by Tokyo’s biggest players in both the public and private sector, the team were frustrated by the generally shabby state of everything they experienced. On returning home they must have enjoyed a few hushed kampais as the design of Haneda airport’s fourth runway was taking shape in Tokyo Bay. Closer to home, Paris, Munich, Frankfurt and Amsterdam all continue to add capacity to their airports while other cities unleash limitless funds to create their own home-grown financial centres.
In issue 09 we introduced you to Anna Castello – our own candidate for the London mayor’s office. Multilingual, well-travelled and perfectly groomed, Castello was put forward as much for her international background as her appeal to a local audience.
In the absence of any dynamic leadership at Downing Street, we also thought she would be a good person to get out on the road to sell London and the broader UK brand. We also saw her as just the diplomat both the capital and country so desperately need to drive investment but also to learn from leaders in Copenhagen, Kyoto, Helsinki and Munich. Unfortunately, Anna Castello was an invention by our editors and is unlikely to show up on ballots come May 1, let alone form an urban version of the G8, although that didn’t stop several think tanks phoning us for contact details.
The best hope for London might well be Damian Hockney of the One London party, as neither the incumbent, the Conservatives’ Boris Johnson, or the Liberal Democrats’ Brian Paddick have international envoy potential. Mr Hockney is onto a few good ideas: we’re particularly fond of his policies aimed at promoting a 24-hour London that would see more buses and trains running into the wee hours and also a complete overhaul of the congestion charge.
At the same time there’s a strong emphasis on improving neighbourhood safety and a programme that would offer parents school vouchers giving them the right to choose where they send their nippers to school – either state or private. It also helps that Hockney seems to scrub up better than most and could be the right face and voice for the job. That he also recognises the importance of the City and is the only candidate whole-heartedly behind Heathrow’s expansion is also an encouraging sign.
If you have any candidates to put forward, or have questions or comments, do drop a line to firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’ve yet to throw our hat in the ring but if we did here are a few policies that would form the foundation of our platform.
Transport comes first: London should build a long-term plan to become a global showcase for transport and give the contract to Hitachi and SBB.
24/7 city: Exploit London’s position between Asia and the Americas and develop an infrastructure to support a 24-hour city.
Four runways are better than two: Why stop at three runways? Go for four.
Start again on social housing: London’s worst housing estates must be flattened and replaced with award-winning schemes for living.
A new park for the east: East London needs a park to rival Hyde Park. There’s no shortage of land that could be sacrificed.
A host of hubs: Taking a cue from Tokyo, London should build multi-use transport hubs on top of Clapham Junction, Marylebone Station and many more.