Anyone who has read my diaries knows that Ken Livingstone has not always been my flavour of the month. And during this campaign for the London Mayorlty, in some of the things he has said and done, he has thrown up reminders of that resistance to his charms.
But as the election nears, there are two questions that matter: of the two men who have been London Mayor, who has done more for London? And who is best placed to be Mayor for the near future?
On the first question, I am in no doubt whatever that the answer is Ken, which leads inevitably onto the same answer for the second question. With the possible exception of the Boris bikes (which weren’t his idea) I am struggling to think of anything that Boris Johnson has actually done for London, other than add to a sense of gaiety to the nation’s capital. That is not unimportant, but hardly merits re-election on its own.
I asked a Tory friend the other day what Boris had actually done, to which the reply was ‘he makes people laugh, and he taps into the anti-politics mood.’ Oh great, a cynical comedian, as if there aren’t enough of them.
Of course the other thing he has done, during part of his Mayorlty, is distance himself from the rest of his Party. But his high profile stance on the lowering of the top rate of tax, duly delivered in the Budget, had eroded that strategy. Ken is Labour, and is motivated by the interests of all Londoners, but particularly those denied jobs, opportunities, and decent living standards. Boris is a Tory, motivated by the things Tories have always been motivated by.
I spent three hours cycling round London yesterday, and after an hour or so realised that I had not seen a single Boris poster in a single London window. Now I am not pretending the place was festooned with Ken posters either, but they were there, every now and then. But in the various parts of North, West and East London where my pedals took me, not once did I pass the home of a Londoner so moved by Boris’s charms and abilities that they devoted window space to urging a vote for him.
That says to me that people have seen through the act. There is little enthusiasm for him, beyond the celebrity bit. For all his abilities to say the wrong thing from time to time, Ken Livingstone used the power he had as Mayor to do good things for London and Londoners, and would do so again.
The one candidate I did notice on my travels was the Lib Dem, Brian Paddick. People say the Lib Dems have had it, but judging by the number of billboard sites they’ve hired, they’re getting big money from somewhere. So at various points there he was, stern-faced, playing up his credentials as a London copper (a brand somewhat tarnished by Yates of the Yard among others) and vowing to keep Londoners safe.
To those minded to vote for him, I would just remind them that the last time people voted Lib Dem in decent numbers, they helped put a Tory Prime Minister in power. This time at least, they have the chance of a second preference. If they want a progressive London Mayor, then it can’t be Boris. It has to be Ken.