Thursday, May 01, 2008

Don't vote for a joke, vote for London

There's a lot at stake in today's London elections

In the country of apathy the easy way out is to tar them all with the same brush: "they're all bad, all liars, all corrupt; just all the same". Ducking is generally uncomplicated and easier on the brain. It's no surprise that the London mayoral contest has been lined by non-descript press coverage lazily referring to "the unenviable choice", along with profound analyses stretching as far as "I wish the options weren’t these two". The London elections are on today and "these two", of course, are Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. One voice that sticks out is that of Johann Hari in The Independent, consistently highlighting the true colours of the Tories' 21century 'lite' version in what he calls our "attention deficit democracy". Hidden between a joke, a crack and a ruffling of his barnet, Boris Johnson has actively endorsed fairly nasty (read: Thatcherite) ideas for the best part of his political career. Indeed it's a blessing that he's been kept on a firm leash throughout the mayoral campaign, otherwise his cheeky chappy credentials may have offered him a leg up in the race to snaffle the oblivious. Because when it comes down to policies, Boris simply hasn’t got a clue. Unless, that is, you consider populistic right-wing policies the clue.

Many have noted how weary Ken Livingstone has looked throughout the campaign. At times there's almost the impression that the old bruiser who took on Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair at the height of their power isn’t even that bothered any more. And yet Ken is obviously aware that he's not simply battling against a resurgent right-wing that is sweeping across Europe, but also in contrast to the burden of his own party. With Brown earning a reputation as the epitome of an ignorant establishment cut off from the real world and Labour nosediving by the minute, Livingstone is desperate to avoid the correlation.

"Livingstone as the establishment" is a formula that simply doesn’t work. His political fortunes have always stemmed from his maverick, anti-status quo credentials. Indeed, one of the most underrated political moments of the last 10 years was itself Livingstone's election in 2000. Remember this was the pinnacle of Blairism. To date, Livingstone remains the only person who dared to openly stand up to Tony the Tsar and his formidable machine. In pure Soviet style, Ken got kicked out of the Labour Party and still managed to pull out a stunning victory. Entirely on his own and against Labour's official candidate, a Tory contender and a Lib-Dem one. But this is the thing: he won hands down precisely because he ran as the voice of dissent. In particular, against Blair the control freak and his New Labourite machine. He offered hope to the millions of people who were repulsed by Blairism but wouldn't be cajoled into the hands of the Tories. The rest is history. Livingstone was let back into Labour in 2004 and London restored as part of Blair's empire. Perhaps Livingstone could have done with keeping out of the Labour Party after all. The word "Labour" is less popular than "Ken". No wonder Boris Johnson has been referring to Ken as "Labour's candidate for mayor".

To listen to the Tories today, London's problems are all Ken Livingstone's creation. The same Evening Standard who sat quietly in front of the most revolting political scandals has been spectacularly out in force to frame the Mayor. You name it. Anti-semitic Ken, pigeon-hating Ken, crooked Ken, communist Ken, cronyist Ken. Crime too, of course, is all his own fault. Never mind shootings and stabbings have plagued Britain regardless of the local councils' political colour. In London, crime seems to be Ken's baby. And remember all the patriotic fuss as London snatched the Olympics? Nah, suddenly, the Olympics are bad, an extra-burden to the vexed taxpayer. Another one of Ken's evil ploys. Exactly like immigration. To listen to Boris the Toff, they're all headed for London.

Then there's the issue of Livingstone fighting to make 50 per cent of new homes affordable. Of course there's little a Mayor can do against house prices, property speculations and mortgage policies. However, Ken is promising that building licences will only be granted with the proviso that 50% of new structures are to be made affordable. Lazily, Johnson dismisses that as "nanny state" policies. Of course he would, wouldn't he? Where he comes from, being priced out of the property market isn't the priority.

Last but not least there's the congestion charge. Livingstone pressed ahead in spite of being literally ripped apart by the press and not just the Tory one. I still recall phone-in radio programmes where people would literally demand his head. Then it soon transpired that daily traffic into London had gone down by 70,000 a day and within months the experiment attracted imitators around the world. Similarly, today Ken is announcing a £25 a day charge for gas-guzzling vehicles entering the congestion charge zone. Clarksonites got into fits of rage at the news and that alone should warrant the Mayor plenty of votes. You know Jeremy Clarkson wouldn't vote for Ken. Don't be like him, vote for Ken.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Haha. Remind me...who won?