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Voices for London

Ken Livingstone and Trevor Phillips have both thrown their hats into the ring for Labour's candidate as London's mayor. So too has Glenda Jackson and maybe Tony Banks. Like thousands of party members Chartist fully believes that candidates like Livingstone, assuming they get sufficient nominations, should be allowed to stand. We also believe selection should be on the basis of one person one vote. As Livingstone and Phillips say in their respective articles, the issues facing Londoners must be met with a radical programme of action. Readers can read their views here and will know their track records.

Enough of the Ken and Jeff Show

Trevor Phillips sets out his stall.

The accepted view of the last fifteen years of Labour's history is that it has been a disaster for the reforming radical left. What began as a tactical accommodation with the electorate under Neil Kinnock has ended in the wholesale destruction of our party's socialist heritage and beliefs under Tony Blair.

This view is equally popular amongst the ideologues of the right wing press, desperate for reassurance that they do not need to fear a government of the left, and the Leninist-influenced hard left inside and outside Labour, who hate the idea of a successful reforming Labour government.

But it is wrong. The government is a good thing! Unlike the Labour governments elected in 1964 or 1974 it did not 'win power' on a particularly left wing manifesto. But that should not blind us to the scale of its assault on the bastions of the Thatcher-state. Debate about tax reform has been transformed from one about how we 'reward' the already wealthy to how we help the working poor. The unitary state has been broken up with devolution to Scotland, Wales and soon London. There has even been a concerted attempt to incorporate Irish republicanism into the democratic process. Local government is being - albeit slowly - given new life and responsibility.

Of course there are things that many of us dislike or even detest: I have made no secret of my views on matters such as the Asylum Bill and the ill-thought out plans for London Underground. But these are not enough to make me want to wreck the government, damage the party's reputation or try to humiliate the Prime Minister. They are reasons why the dialogue between the government, party members and Labour voters needs to be strengthened, not why we should have a trial separation.

In London we have a unique chance to give our verdict on the party's direction. At least one candidate for the party nomination is running on a platform of uncritical support for everything the government has done, is doing and will do. Another might offer hope to the sectarians that their predictions of failure for Labour may at last be coming true. And then there's me.

Politically I want to strengthen the hands of the reformers inside the Party and the government. I want to press home the message that modernisation does not just mean Labour can cut taxes too, but that politics needs to be inclusive and that there is no choice but to challenge the big vested corporate interests on transport, health, planning and the environment.

It has taken a long time for many commentators to get over the shock caused by the colour of my skin but I hope that - finally - the message is breaking through about the nature of the choice inside the party. I am not a cipher for Tony Blair and nor am I just a handy way of adding depth to someone else's platform by incorporating me as deputy.

Of course it suits some people to argue that I am nothing more than a patsy for Downing Street while others say I am not reliable as a carrier of the leadership's torch. Reportedly the political officer of one of the bigger unions has ordered his young cadres to spy on my campaign because of my dangerously leftist attitudes.

And it is the hard right who have been given new life by the withdrawal of too many of the party's leading reformers into the government machine. Always on hand to offer a quick-fix solution, the right have never even pretended to sympathise within those entering the party with feminist, green or other radical perspectives. Seemingly unable to fix up this contest through the wielding of the block vote, they have spent the last year trying to find a Cabinet Minister - any Cabinet Minister - willing to do their bidding and stand. Now it seems that an ex-junior minister is going to have to do.

In the meantime I have been here steadily advocating my own political agenda. This is one that most readers of Chartist ought to be in sympathy with: the benefits of London's prosperity should be spread throughout the city, the huge crescent of deprivation running from North West to South East London should be tackled, we should take radical action against over use of the car, we should radically modernise our police to end the era of PC Plod, we should look for radical ways of rebuilding our public transport system within the public sector.

I want the new authority to take the environment seriously - something that the government seems reluctant to do - and that means being tough on traffic congestion and tough on the causes of congestion by returning large parts of central London to people through pedestrianisation. I simply do not believe that road charges would be enough to do the job on their own - unless they were set at such a high level that the Mayor would be guilty of leaving the roads the property of the rich.

I grew up in a household without a telephone. Not being able to phone a friend was not just a badge of poverty, or a cause of great teenage frustration: it was a barrier to full membership of society. So too will be an inability to access the virtual world of the internet in only a few years. But I want London to be the first city in the world to banish e-poverty by guaranteeing access for all. And, predictably, you'll have to look at my web site (http://www.trevorphillips.org) if you want to know more!

Even now the politics of this election seems to have a back seat to the trivia and the personalities. I know I have had enough of the Ken and Jeff show - if you have too, then you are more than welcome on board.

London catalyst

Ken Livingstone on London as an international city

Electing a Labour mayor for London is going to be an exhilarating experience for the Party in the capital. The abolition of the GLC left not only London citizens but London Labour members without a strategic body to organise around, lobby and argue with. The quangoisation of London government meant that the Party has had no one regional focus for its activities in London and the debate about the capital is now being reinvigorated by the prospect that this time next year, Labour could be running London again.

I have spoken at length about policies for London and over the next few months the policy debate will be key. But as a party of democratic socialism we also have a duty to place our actions in a international context. Here I want to deal with where this new system of government will fit into wider global concerns at the start of the new century.

One of the major problems facing Tony Blair's government is that for twelve years London has been the only capital city in Europe without a democratically elected government. Behind closed doors unelected quangos have mismanaged the city. The appalling levels of congestion on our streets mean that travelling times have declined to levels not seen since the turn of the century. The resulting pollution hangs over London on an almost permanent basis. Homelessness and huge swathes of inner city poverty now disfigure a city which at its centre holds the wealthiest square mile and greatest wealth generator anywhere in Europe.

A directly elected mayor will be a post of such high public visibility that the mayor will inevitably lead the debate about the modernisation and development of the city. To be successful this individual will first have to analyse what it is that creates great cities. History is filled with cities that rose and flourished briefly, attached to one great industrial advance and then faced decline.

Great cities stay great if they can stay at the cutting edge of either culture or economic innovation. Many of the greatest cities are those which have a strong cultural and artistic base as well as economic dynamism. Berlin is remembered for its artistic achievements between the wars yet its other great contribution to human advance was the creation of modern industries based on electricity, led by economic giants Siemens and AEG. Similarly although we automatically think of London as the pre-eminent city of financial capital, and have seen this powerfully reasserted during the Thatcher years, in truth London's greatest contribution to humanity is the flowering of literature, theatre and poetry during the Shakespearean period.

Imperial Rome was the first city in human history to achieve a population of one million. It was not until 1810 that London broke through that record reaching two and half million population by 1851, and eight million after World War One. Now across the third world new mega-cities see people living in conditions of poverty as bad as anything that existed in London in the 19th Century.

Some time during this year the human population will surpass six billion and if we are lucky it will stabilise at about nine billion by the middle of the next century. The vast majority of people will live in great cities. If London with all its wealth cannot show how to provide a decent quality of life for all its citizens then what hope can there be for the inhabitants of Calcutta or Mexico City? The innovations that must come from the new government of London could become a catalyst which can feed into policy-making in cities around the world.

The great struggles of 19th Century reformers to create a city worth living in did not really reach fruition until the years after 1945. Having completed the Victorian legacy of reform London ceased to be at the leading edge of innovation and change. The post-war Labour government created a system of city planning which became a model for the rest of the world but by the 1970s it had grown into a bureaucratic monster unresponsive to the rapid pace of change.

The mayor and assembly for London must preside over a much more responsive planning system which allows both public and private sectors to move rapidly into new fields of technological advance. The only gainers from the current lengthy delays in planning policy are our highly paid lawyers. The heart of a great world city requires ground breaking and innovative architecture as much as it requires innovation in its economy. We must also harness the strong green sentiment in London - demonstrated by the election of a Green MEP this year - to synthesise environmental opinion with technological innovation.

In Cities in Civilisation Sir Peter Hall analyses the rise of successful cities. His work finds many common themes as he examines the periods of urban innovation from ancient Athens to Los Angeles. Much of the new thinking in art or commerce came from migrants attracted to find their fortune in the city, whether this was the artists drawn to mediaeval Florence or the computer 'nerds' who flocked to California's Bay Area. It is this influx of innovative and usually younger minds that can achieve a critical mass in a city of sufficient size. After decades of stagnation in the thinking of London's city managers and the closing down of the Greater London Council, London is now ripe for a period of major reform and innovation.

Information technology and cultural activity in the city is once again at the leading edge of change. All the classic signs identified by Hall are in place for what he calls a new golden age of the city. The new mayor for London must exploit this dynamism. At all costs we must avoid going back to the days of long drawn out planning processes which stifle innovation and lead to an exodus of the best and brightest.

Early in the 1980s the Greater London Council proposed that Britain should take the lead in being the first nation to establish a fibre optic network linking all homes, businesses and educational establishments. Sadly the Thatcher government ignored this advice. Given the size of the information technology sector in the London economy it is still possible for London to be a leading player in the IT revolution.

It is important not to make the mistake of seeing the new Mayor and Assembly as simply city administrators. London is a region on the scale of a major German Land. There is no doubt that if the new authority is a success it will form the basis of a major devolution of power from Whitehall to the English regions in Tony Blair's second term, thus moving Britain towards the modern European pattern of devolved regional government. That is a challenge worth rising to.

 

1999