Jessamyn McArdle, British/Canadian (AC, 07-09)
The 2008 London Mayoral elections are soon upon us, galloping, ever faster towards the forefront of our minds, whipping up a storm of political debate and foolhardy promises. On May 1st Londoners have the choice of, in the right corner, Boris Johnson, better known for his television chat-show appearances and scandalous affairs than his hard hitting policies on knife and gun crime in the capital. And in the left corner, Ken Livingstone, current mayor of London, whose complacency has been jolted by Boris’s surprising surge in the polls and whose Congestion Charging has divided the city. And in the middle, (apparently), neither left, nor right, ‘just English’ is Matt O’Conner, whose picture in the campaign booklet wouldn’t look out of place in a John Frieda advert, and who bases his campaign on removing money from Scotland and placing it in circulation in London.
But, all jokes aside, what we are really voting for is someone who will be in charge of one of the most powerful cities in the world – London has a GDP bigger than Switzerland or Sweden. The mayor’s role is to improve the city with benefit to Londoners, manage London’s government, run transport operations with a budget of £9 billion, as well as work in close conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Ultimately, the mayor is the face of and promoter of London and her economy around the world. Why else would the issue have received so much international coverage including an article in ‘The New Yorker’ magazine, if it did not hold so much importance?
It is unfortunate then, that for such an important position, many Londoners are deciding not to vote at all this year. It seems that many feel the selection is so uninspiring that ticking a ‘None of the above’ box on the ballot would be a better choice than ticking a box for one of the ten representatives. This becomes even more worrying when we consider just how important the role of London mayor will be this year, as we come closer to preparation for the 2012 Olympics. London needs a mayor who can successfully help to direct £9.35bn of our money in the right direction, towards an infrastructure investment and not a disaster of a site that will be left an empty shell when the games are over.
So who are the candidates? The two front runners are Ken Livingstone (Labour Party) and Boris Johnson (Conservative Party). If you observe the arguments between the two over such things as stealing policies, (Ken wants to copy Boris’s plan to use community service to earn back travelling rights for misbehaving youths) you will be swivelling your head side to side like a spectator at Wimbledon. Perhaps Ken’s most controversial policy will be the increase of the Congestion Charge to a monumental £25 for gas guzzling 4x4s while Boris is plyaing it safe by using ‘buzz phrases’ such as “Beef up police presence on our streets”.
The contenders you will have heard much less about are: Siân Berry (Green Party) who will presumably appeal to the eco-crowd with her stance against airport expansion and plans for solar panels on 100,000 roofs; Richard Barnbrook (British National Party) with a self-conscious slogan “Because it’s not racist to oppose mass immigration and political correctness—it’s common sense” and policies to house “real Londoners” first; Lindsey German (Left List) promises more equality, a cleaner environment and also, although I’m not sure how she plans to do this, to bring our troops back from Iraq and Afghanistan; Brian Paddick (Liberal Democrats) who wants to improve (surprise surprise) policing, transport, housing and the environment; Gerard Batten (UK Independence Party) who wants to cut the cost of the Olympics to cut tax and “say NO to mass immigration”; Alan Craig (Christian Peoples Alliance and Christian Party) whose priorities are stopping the construction of a mega-mosque near the site of the Olympics and promoting marriage to end juvenile delinquency; and finally Matt O’Connor (English Democrats) who thinks you should vote for him and not Ken on the grounds that Ken backed by a Scottish-run government.
So, what to do: vote for Ken and maintain the status quo; choose Boris as a colourful figurehead despite his questionable organisational skills; go with your conscious and vote Green; or make a “statement” by supporting one of the marginal candidates? All that aside, you are given a vote, you have a voice, let it be heard and make it count.