ho remembers Horace Cutler the last Tory Leader of the Greater London Council? We defeated Horace in 1981 and elected Ken Livingstone as our new young leader. Margaret Thatcher knew her party could not beat Ken in the polls and so abolished the GLC in 1986. It is now ironic that the Conservative Party which destroyed London's city-wide government finds itself stepping into Ken's shoes - but the whole Labour movement should be proud of Ken's eight year period as Mayor of London.
Tony Blair and almost all of his government campaigned to stop Ken being elected. Even Bernie Grant, just before he died, publicly opposed Ken's candidature for Mayor. How wrong they were.
After eight years Ken has totally changed the political debate in London. Even Boris is continuing with over 90% of Ken's transport policies for example. Even where differences arise, such as on RouteMasters and Bendy buses, the £25 charge for Chelsea Tractors or the size of the congestion charging zone, these are not fundamental issues and represent more a difference of presentation rather than substance.
Boris has plans for express buses based on the “BRT” (Bus Rapid Transit) principle that Nicky Gavron, as Deputy Mayor, espoused from day one of Ken's administration. As long as he finds fresh finance to fund these new suburban town centre links and does not cut back on other bus services to fund them, then we should support this plan to give outer London motorists an alternative orbital link. Similarly we should support better policing and his attempts to remove alcohol from the public transport system. I'm just hoping that Boris will drop the Thames Gateway Bridge road crossing and convert it to rail!
Ken delivered big improvements to public transport infrastructure and committed TfL to a huge capital programme never seen before in London, including Dockland Light Railway under the Thames to Woolwich, extensions to the East London Line and Croydon Tram, Underground station modernisation and not least CrossRail. The annoying factor is that as he cuts the ribbons, Boris Johnson will get the credit for Ken's forward planning.
Many of Boris's policies are just building on what Ken has already started. Ken created neighbourhood policing, more British Transport Police on the Underground and with £50m from TfL, police on the buses that have successfully reduced bus crime over the past six years.
Ken introduced over thirty strategies and policies to improve bus services. These ranged from integrated fares and ticketing using Oyster and a cashless zone, bus priority, more buses (environmentally cleaner and with at least two door-operation for speedy boarding), better paid drivers, more inspectors, better timetables and information, improved Countdown based on GPS, quality contracts to give incentives for private operators to improve services, the congestion charge, travel demand management and other measures.
It took almost a miracle to turn Tony Blair's opposition to Ken into outright support. The funding of London's most ambitious capital programme by allowing TfL to borrow huge sums, the revenue support for the bus improvements which produced over 50% growth in patronage, improvements for cyclists and pedestrians, the achievement of a 5% modal shift from cars to public transport, granting of control of the Overground Lines from National Rail, the agreement by the Government to a funding deal for CrossRail and the financing of the London Olympics must all be considered not only as feathers in Ken's cap but also an acknowledgement of his superb political skills. Ken had already committed TfL to introduce a street bike-hire scheme similar to Paris and other policies to improve London Overground services and to integrate Oyster with suburban rail operations.
Even though May's election was a disaster for the London Labour Movement we performed much better than in the rest of the country and Ken's total vote was greater than in his last election. Better pundits than I will analyse the reasons for London's result but the biased press and TV campaign cannot be ignored. Of course, Ken is human, and nobody is perfect. No doubt on reflection he will not just remind us of lessons from this past eight years but also use this experience to prepare us better and to lead us to defeat Boris next time.Remember, Horace Cutler (who's administration was the ‘Jewel in Mrs Thatcher's Crown') only lasted four years.
The Labour Movement owes a debt of gratitude to Ken – I just wish he was in Parliament to take over as Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Dave Wetzel was vice chair of Transport for London between 2000 and 2008. He was also the last chair of the GLC's transport committee.