This article was started just after the election in May 2012, and only finished over the Xmas break of 2013, nearly 20 months later. Some of the tenses may thus be a bit odd. I have backdated this in the blog to the time I started it. However RSS feed consumers and Facebook will publish this as at today. The article talks about the candidates, Labour’s manifesto, the role of London Mayor, how Labour sought to hold Boris to account for his record and character and briefly questions whether London is a coherent political entity. I have tried to ensure the article is contemporaneous to the time of the election. (I didn’t quite manage it.)
As I’ve said, I have been busy over the last year campaigning for Ken Livingstone as Mayor of London and for a Labour group on the London Assembly. Now we have the perfect vision from hindsight others have been writing about the London election, Labour’s victory in the Assembly and failure to win the Mayor election. I thought I’d join in. Many blame the candidate, but I feel the issues are deeper than that and that lessons need to be learned.
It’s Ken wot lost it!
A lot of Ken’s, and, let’s face it, Ed Miliband’s enemies are focusing on the candidate choice and via him the Leader. As a Labour Party, we need to learn why Ken Livingstone who for many years was more popular than the Party, was at this election 1% behind the Labour List and 5% behind the Labour’s Assembly representative candidate’s votes. This was not uniform across London and reflects the success of the Tory’s doughnut strategy of ensuring that their suburban supporters turned out. Assuming that the whole deficit is due to Ken personally will underestimate those parts of London where his candidacy added to Labour’s votes. There can be little doubt that Ken was a polarising influence and some Labour voters, supporters and even members had difficulty in bringing themselves to vote for him. In researching this article on my analysis of the role of the candidate in London Labour’s loss, one of the more interesting and nuanced analyses, was posted by Adam Bienkov at the New Statesman in an article called Real Reasons…., he concludes that the Blairites and the new Tory “Back to Basics” tendencies are both wrong, but that after 41 years of Ken, Londoner’s had had enough.
Given we lost, why did we not have a better choice? It is clear that the only other candidate on the Labour Party’s internal election ballot paper, Oona King, would not have done better. Oona King was irreparably branded as a pro-war Blairite, she was never going to win a ballot of the London Labour Party.
(Some argue that we should have an open primary; I don’t believe that would have helped. If people can’t agree to abide by the programme and policy and candidate selection process, I don’t want their advice on who our candidates should be.) For those with discipline to wait for the election result before criticising the party, candidate and campaign, where was your candidate? I know that many people of good will voted for Oona King, but she wouldn’t have won.
So if not Ken and not Oona, what we as Labour need to ask is, where is the renewal? Why was the choice between Ken & Oona King? I am sure we can do better; however at the time, Ken stood for the sort of London I wanted to see, having returned to it after twenty years living in Hampshire, albeit working in central London for much of that time. As a party, we owe it to ourselves and our supporters to be truthful about our politics; we shouldn’t trim our decisions for popularity. If you do, you let your opponents define the battleground; they drag you towards their locus.
So if the candidate was wrong, and we had no better choice, could we have fought a better campaign.
Who heard what we said?
The answer, despite Wes Streeting’s polemic at Progress Online is clearly “Yes”.
I apologise to say, I never read the manifesto.
I do know, through campaigning that the breadth of the manifesto was not understood even by ourselves and the Tories reduced us on transport to offering a discount on the travel. Policies on the Environment, Police and Planning all disappeared. The last day leaflets on the travel pledge were indistinguishable from a discount voucher and as raised elsewhere, did not mention the candidate’s name and were printed in black, green and purple, rather than Labour’s traditional red & yellow. On transport, our strongest policy plank, we permitted ourselves to be reduced to offering a bribe. At least one supporter, who was handing them out at a station, said we need to be careful with the “£1000 off” leaflets, as “they looked like double glazing adverts”. It’s clear to me that Labour,’s 2012 campaign unlike the original fare’s fair campaign failed to establish an argument of fairness and altruism when compared with the Tory Policy of “inflation plus”; we failed to establish the arguments that infrastructure creates value and that cheap public transport benefits everyone. We failed to argue that minimising the congestion charge zone directly contributes to the need to increase bus and tube fare; by abolishing the plans to extend the congestion charge zone towards West London, Johnson took the choice to prefer motorists over bus & tube users as this lost revenue needed to be collected through higher fares. In the case of buses, they are now 50% higher than those he inherited. Labour even failed to make the argument that a “Fare Freeze” disproportionately benefited Zone 6 commuters.
The debate on Policing and the Environment disappeared. Police became exclusively about numbers and not priorities although articulating a single policing policy for London from Zones 1 to 6 is difficult. The problem with numbers is that they fall into the ‘all politicians lie’ class of promise. It is not helped by the fact that London’s police governance is split between the Mayor and the Home Secretary. On the environmental side, with both air quality agenda and the transport dimension of cycle safety and airport capacity, Labour was well equipped to win the policy debate since Johnson’s policy on air quality involves gluing the dirt to the ground, but only near the EU’s monitoring stations. He proposed the building of a new Heathrow on a bird sanctuary and marsh and despite his personal use of the bicycle, the Tories had deservedly lost the support of the cycling lobby through its commitment to the motorist’s interests, culminating in a quorum attack on the Authority meeting which was planning to consider cycling safety.
Labour’s final failure, was the late recognition of the toxic condition of the housing market. Housing is not a Mayor/GLA responsibility although strategic planning is, and the number of new dwellings becoming available under Boris’s Mayoralty has been lower than under Ken’s. To the extent that this because an electoral issue, it was a question of new starts and promises. The record was not explored and Labour’s promises were insufficiently broad or any more realistic than Boris’s. Labour also proposed regulation of private rental managing agencies and a publicly owned competitor. The importance of the issue was underestimated by Labour, we were late to the party and the promises were insufficient; arguably the Mayor’s powers are also insufficient.
Promises on a London wide Educational Maintenance Allowance and collective energy buying were also made; it’s unclear to me and I’d suggest the electorate where this came from and they were promises made very late in the campaign. There aren’t many of us left that remember the London Electricity Board.
Fighting Boris & Crosby on policy is hard since Johnson’s record shows me that, like me this time, he doesn’t read his manifesto. I’d also suggest that I am a bit of a policy wonk and more interested in policy than the average voter. Channel 4’s factcheck reviewed his nine promises and came to the conclusion that on the basis of his record they were at the fictional end of the spectrum. Despite this and his historic casual attitude to facts and truth, he has been elected Mayor of London twice.
Does it matter?
I have argued elsewhere, that executive Mayors are a democratic mistake and in London we, I say we, I mean Tony Blair’s New Labour government have created a monster where in the future only Rock Stars and Celebrities can win! Candidate’s policies, manifestos, vision and public service record come to stand for nothing. Let’s face it, Boris made his reputation with the electorate of London via eight appearances on “Have I got news for you!”. He had a non existent experience of executive government, he’d never been a councillor, and thus never a council committee member/chair, never been a minister; before becoming an MP, the only election(s) he’d stood for had been Oxford Union positions.
The purpose of the Mayor of London is to provide democratic control of the funding for London’s transport, police and fire services and to provide a strategic planning authority. It is funded through central government grants and through a trivial precept on Londoner’s council tax. The GLA can reject and amend the Mayor’ proposals with a 2/3 majority. Sadly, the Tories still have a third of the assembly seats. On examination of the enabling legislation, I can see no way that the Mayor can be removed, or suspended.
Is this fundamentally a weak portfolio of powers where voters can take a risk? Are these technocratic portfolio programmes where competence can be provided at the Head of Agency?
I feel that London should return to a committee led authority, where the Council has the last word and works through committees. Local authorities leadership should be collective not individual. The arguments for as single Mayor are deeply unconvincing. A collective leadership would have a higher focus on delivery, and greater accountability between the manifesto and action. It would leave the electorate more powerful, and certainly closer to their elected representatives.
Johnson is a man described later in the year as “is bereft of judgement, loyalty and discretion” by Max Hastings, his former boss at the Telegraph, and a man not to be trusted with one’s wallet or wife. It’s a shame he didn’t say this before the election but the facts were available for those willing to wade through Sonia Purnell‘s unauthorised biography of him.
This is a man who receives £250K p.a. from the Telegraph. This is in addition to his salary as Mayor of London working for a newspaper. This is a man who stated that the investigations into phone hacking by the press were “left-wing poppycock dreamed up by the Labour Party”. This is a man who is the de-facto head of the Metropolitan Police which had the responsibility for investigating potential criminal activity amongst the press. It’s hard to believe that Johnson did not repeat his views about the priority of the phone hacking investigation or make his views known through intermediaries to the investigating officers and their management. Sir Paul Stephenson, the Met Police Commissioner, a man who worked directly for Boris and ultimately responsible for these criminal investigations eventually resigned due to integrity issues related to the investigations into press and later police corruption.
But there were other accelerated resignations of Mayoral appointments or senior police officers in his first term.
Despite all this, the debate on probity came to be about Livingstone’s taxes. I commented on this issue on this blog here, where I host the video in which Johnson describes £250K as chickenfeed. I am sure he has questions to answer, and the first is how can you promise that your first loyalty is to the job and your electorate when the Telegraph pays you over twice as much. It should also be noted that the Civil Service rules, which obviously cannot apply to the Mayor of London, demand that public servants are beholden to one wage, that paid by the taxpayer; this is in order to eliminate any suspicion of conflict of interest. I think we know who breaks this Civil Service rule; even if it is merely chickenfeed.
His first term will be remembered for his useless erections and monuments
- The Bike Scheme, used by the city workers and subsidised by the rest of us
- The helter skelter that doesn’t work also known as the ArcelorMittal Orbit, which was at least ready on time
- The dangleway neé the cable car to nowhere, used by tourists and subsidised by the rest of us
- The Borismeister bus
- A £3.65 p.a. reduction in the Council Tax in year 4.
Permitting him to retain his liberal halo earned by speaking against Housing Benefit cuts, and against class cleansing while he does nothing to ameliorate them, and pursuing a fares policy which is a corrosive piece of class war is a mistake.
It would seem that too many in the Labour Party didn’t have the taste for negative campaigning.
One hope may be the London Assembly, we’ll have to see how the Assembly shapes up now that the Tories can no longer close their meetings by walking out and making the meeting inquorate. (In fact, removing the Tory Party’s veto on the activities of the Assembly may be one of the most important result of the election last month.) Let’s hope that some of them build a reputation and a voice that represents London’s majority. They have a flying start and the committee chairmanships for the first year of the Assembly have been reported at the Mayorwatch site in this article.
Who’s a Londoner?
Should we consider returning some parts of the outskirts of London to their neighbouring counties, Surrey, Kent and Essex?
This was mainly written over the summer of 2012, I never finished it but the key messages that the loss was not due solely to the choice of candidate, that the politics and manifesto of Labour’s campaign, the poor articulation of Johnson’s record and cronyism, the definition of London and possibly London’s lack of commitment to its Mayoral system all added to Labour’s loss of the London Mayor election in 2012. There was a debate at the time with a number of Labour Party members arguing that it was down to the candidate selection. The original article was more aggressive in it’s criticism of those who argued it was the candidate since some of them had a poor record in fighting for Livingstone’s victory. It’s important that all lessons are learned, otherwise we are doomed to repeat them.
The article was finished over the Xmas Holiday of 2013, a month after the Progress event reported as the “Not the London Mayoral Candidate” hustings and two weeks after the Fabian Society published “Our London” as a contribution to the discussion around a manifesto for 2016.
The picture in the article is taken from a BBC report on the election result, which is well worth reading even today. It is watermarked by PA, I have linked to it and so published no copies of the picture. The featured picture, i.e. the front page and archive page picture is taken from http://www.commonpeople.org.uk. I believe that the copies I have made and hosted are web cache copies. N.B. This is not a commercial site.