I must admit that in the last two Mayoral elections I voted with personal rather than party conviction: in all honesty I believed Ken Livingstone to be a better choice for Mayor than Steve Norris, despite the obvious mismatch in our political beliefs, and I have been no more disappointed by the reality of his administration than of ideologically more acceptable representatives for whom I've voted in other elections.
But I think the time has come for a change. Not because of anything that Ken has specifically said or done - I find bluntness and a refusal to apologise for occasional gaffs an admirable trait in a modern politician. However a politician who attains that magical third term in any significant office generally loses sight of the people who put them in power, and I expect Ken to be no different in that regarded than the sainted Margaret or destiny-touched Blair. The Mayor's administration has bloated and needs rationalising, it's budget needs pruning back, and a fairer balance needs to be struck between local boroughs and the central authority. It's the nature of socialists to believe in central planning, and there are times when they're right to advocate such policies (e.g. a city-wide integrated transport policy), but there also needs to be trust that local communities can make the best decisions regarding their future.
In the case of London the primary areas where central planning is desirable are its transport infrastructure and in representing the needs of the financial engines that power it, whether in championing affordable housing for key workers - not just public sector workers, but all who directly contribute to the huge tax surplus that London generates for the exchequer - or in standing up to government over unnecessary red tape that prevents business from achieving its full potential. Despite his best efforts and intentions Ken has failed to deliver the level of public transport that the capital needs to function comfortably and the price of casual travel is extortionate, whilst the issue of affordable housing looms even larger now than it did eight years ago.
I appreciate that any Mayor will be limited in their ability to fulfil the expectations of the average voter due to the emasculated nature of the office, but that's not to say that a change of approach couldn't improve matters. And a change of approach would definitely follow if any of the Tory candidates get the job. So who are these Tory hopefuls? An interesting mix:
- former government advisor Warwick Lightfoot will appeal to the business community with his emphasis on fighting their corner, but his message also focuses on issues of social inclusion and local control is relevant to inner-city boroughs;
- fellow Kensington & Chelsea councillor Victoria Borwick seems the most traditional in her views and lays out a strong manifesto of improved policing, green technology and abolition of the congestion charge;
- Boris Johnson is a well-known and occasionally controversial figure with a manifesto focused on improving the quality of life across the city and an emphasis on fixing our long-suffering transport system;
- the final candidate is political dynamo Andrew Boff, standing on a platform of decentralisation and increased powers for individual boroughs.
Who will I be voting for? Well that's a tough question to answer. Each candidate has a strong manifesto, and it's good to see such a strong emphasis on tackling the issues of social inclusion and lack of affordable housing that plague the metropolis. Boris has an obvious advantage thanks to his higher public profile but it's easy to overestimate the benefit that brings. Then of course there's the alarming similarity between Victoria and my family's very own political black-sheep - the Labour councillor I affectionately call mother: is it unfair to hold red hair against a candidate? Warwick has put by far the most effort into expressing his views on his website, but as a former special advisor to Conservative governments of yesteryear he suffers from the John Redwood syndrome. And Andrew? His track record is impressive and his use of New Labour's colour scheme is an interesting gimmick, but can he really deliver the second-preference votes from non-Tories that he'll need to ensure electoral success?
One thing's for sure, with twenty days to go until the ballot closes I wont be alone in doing some hard thinking...