Ken v Boris. Is this really the best London has to offer?
We may still be some nine months out but the race to become London’s mayor in 2012 surely kicked off in earnest this week in the aftermath of the London riots. Granted the Lib Dems still don’t actually have anyone to participate in that race but this was always going to be a two-horse contest regardless of whether or not they turned up on time for the starting gun.
Ken v Boris, the rematch, was hardly shaping up to be a classic. With the Olympics starting up just two months after the election, it seemed we were set for a popularity contest once again based on trivial issues surrounding the games. Who would wave the flag most elegantly? Who would give the finest speech at the opening ceremony? Serious stuff like that.
But after the week of carnage that we’ve just witnessed in London, there are now a host of far more important issues that are going to dominant the political discourse in the run-up to the mayoral election. The underlying causes that left large parts of London in chaos will need to be examined as well as how the police should look to respond in such situations and how they can work together with communities to try and prevent a repeat of such events.
It is of course likely that the focus will fall mainly on the issue of policing. Addressing any underlying social or economic causes that may have contributed to the unrest might require the sort of radical thinking that seems to elude nearly all leading politicians these days. Far better to offer up a quick political fix such as more police on the beat or more CCTV cameras on the street.
A cynical view of politicians? Maybe, but when one looks at the response of London’s leading two politicians, it’s difficult to arrive at any different conclusion. Ken and Boris have offered up strikingly opposing views as to what has gone wrong and how we might go about fixing it but as a Londoner it is hard to take any great comfort in either of their words.
The mayor’s initial reaction was something of a PR disaster. As he struggled to make out which end of the broom to hold, it was hard not to imagine that London’s finest road sweeper, Trigger, would have offered more clarity than London’s leader. He swept away any suggestions that there might be political, economic or social factors involved and yet could only nod along in agreement as this young man offered him a whole heap of such factors.
It is not hard to agree with the sentiments that much of what occurred over the last week was indeed criminal behaviour by opportunistic youths who were there only to bag themselves a free pair of trainers or even more simply just to be able to say they were there when the riots kicked off. Johnson’s own views may well be in part formed by his and his Bullingdon mate’s panache for trashing a restaurant or two but if he believes his job now as Mayor is simply to help round up and punish the culprits rather than to seek to understand how we ended up here then he is deeply mistaken.
But if Boris’ words, along with the lateness of his arrival, offered Ken Livingstone all the freedom he should have needed to provide the leadership London required, he too was found desperately wanting. To be a tribal politician is not necessarily to be a bad politician but when barely a sentence left Ken’s lips this past week that didn’t mention all the Tory cuts that have been implemented it is hard to believe that he truly puts the interests of Londoners first over his desire to beat the Tories.
Of course the impact of cutting so deep across all sections of society needs to be discussed but by seeking to make it the only topic up for debate Livingstone made it abundantly clear that it was the political repercussions for the mayor that interested him most. It may well work for him and he may yet get to be the one that flies the flag for Britain at the Olympics if Boris doesn’t work harder to preserve London’s front-line services but where will it leave London? If the only topic up for discussion is cuts to policing can we really look into the future and not expect to see similar scenes again?
By virtue of the fact that he turned up on time to the crisis this last week, Ken was marginally the lesser of two evils. That may well be good enough to win an election but it’s hardly what London needs right now.