This article originally appeared in the Guardian on the 3rd June 2010. It can be found here.
With the Tories back in power, the election of a new London mayor in 2012 takes on greater significance. Boris Johnson holds the biggest mandate of any British politician, but do he and David Cameron really understand what life can be like in tough times? As we select our leader, Labour must be clear about what we learned from the general election, and how we can win again in the capital.
First, the good news. The result for Labour in London was far better than in the rest of the country. The bad news is that Boris’s “doughnut strategy” from 2008 repeated itself. There is a blue ring emerging around the capital. To win again, we must find a way to speak for those in the suburbs. We need a renewed offer on quality of life. Crime and antisocial behaviour are bigger issues in these residential areas. People worry about teenagers hanging around on streets. Issues like mental health and youth services affect everyone: we need to start making that case.
We should be looking for a coalition politician. Under London’s voting system, it is not just a small group of swing voters who matter. Voters’ second preferences can also be decisive. Our nominee must have deep roots in our party as well as the ability to appeal to liberal idealists, greens and working-class Londoners of all political persuasions.
Above all, we need a political heavyweight. In 2012 the euphoria of the Olympics may well be tempered by the harsh realities of everyday life. I grew up in the inner city during the 1980s, and can remember how it felt. Money was short, jobs were scarce, there was a sense that the political establishment was not interested – and violent social unrest followed. London will need its mayor to provide leadership and reassurance, and understand how to get the best deal for the capital.
If we get these things right, Boris will be vulnerable. In 2008 Labour recorded its worst local election results for 40 years. This time, Tory ministers will be overseeing some of the most savage cuts to public services since Margaret Thatcher’s time in office. Boris, meanwhile, will have his own record to defend.
Two years ago Boris was an irreverent figure, cycling to City Hall to announce his candidacy. But every day it becomes clearer he is just another politician. He has developed a reputation for reneging on pledges, indulging in cronyism, and dodging responsibility for issues like policing. He has done nothing to ease London’s chronic housing shortage, the Olympics risks running way over budget, and he has wasted money on vanity projects. He seems more interested in replacing Cameron than in his own job.
I thought hard about whether to enter the contest myself. But three weeks after being re-elected by the people of Tottenham is not the right time to be leaving parliament. Already, I’ve seen the Tories dismantle support for children, students and the unemployed. These are not painless “efficiency savings” but mistakes that will come back to haunt Britain. I will speak for my constituents in the Commons.
The figure best placed to lead the fight is Ken Livingstone. He has steered our city through tough times in the past, speaking passionately in the aftermath of the 2005 bombings. He has a record of getting things done, from pioneering community policing to holding down tube fares. He is equally comfortable in an east London greasy spoon, a street carnival in Notting Hill or a global summit in Davos. He knows city government and coalition politics inside out, has been through countless Whitehall spending rounds, and has London in his soul. Ken has reinvented himself more times than Madonna – and he’ll be back stronger than ever in 2012.