Editorial: London Mayor Election 'All that's solid melts...'

On 4 May, Ken Livingstone was elected London's first independent metropolitan mayor, gaining 667,877 first preference votes (38.9%). His nearest rival, Conservative Steven Norris, took 464,434 votes (27%) and the official Labour candidate Frank Dobson came a poor third with 223,884 votes (13%). Across the country, in local council elections the Labour Party suffered a consistent drubbing: Labour lost 573 seats compared to Conservative gains of 593. What was also consistent was the appallingly low turn-out for both mayoral and local elections. In London 1.7 million votes were cast out of a possible 5 million (32%); in some areas of the country the turnout was less than 25%.

The result for the 25-seat Greater London Assembly (GLA) – the Labour government's sop to devolution and decentralisation – was less conclusive. Both Labour and Tories ended up with 9 seats, Liberal Democrats 4, and Green Party 3. This is hardly the broad democratic assembly that London needs or that Livingstone claimed to want. The parties are already imposing centralised discipline for a body, as Livingstone himself described it, 'hardly bigger than an Islington dinner party'. The assembly will meet from 3 July. Until then the manoeuvrings for Livingstone's cabinet and various committees will be no less byzantine than the mayoral election campaign itself.

Over the last six moths Livingstone has made a number of promises which he will now break. He has started already: he promised to support whichever candidate emerged from Labour's selection procedure, but when he lost and discovered his huge lead in opinion polls, he could not resist breaking that promise. He had plenty of excuse given the shameless gerrymandering by the Labour leadership to ensure that Frank Dobson was selected. But there will be fewer and fewer excuses as time goes on, because despite his erstwhile socialist pretensions, Livingstone does not want a confrontation with New Labour's leaders – he wants to be one of them. Typically he attacked the anti-capitalists before and after May Day in a manner designed to please his Labour masters and the Metropolitan police.

The Livingstone post-election party was a forum for optimism: 'promising the most open, accessible and inclusive style of government ever seen in the UK, the new mayor plans to pick up where the GLC left off with equal opportunities policies, an increase of police numbers by 2000, sponsorship of ambitious arts, sports and environment programmes, and cajoling money out of Whitehall for more low cost homes and better health and education services' (Observer).

Very nice, and broadly what his supporters expect of him, even though the Mayor and GLA have very few powers to do most of this. But this is a very different rainbow coalition to the one Livingstone claimed for the GLC. 'Open', 'accessible' and 'inclusive' may be the slogan, but in reality the mayoralty is a savage concentration of executive power. The vision may be rainbow, but like Labour's 'ethical' foreign policy, it can have no substance...it melts into air. Within days of the election, Livingstone had broken his promise to appoint a Green Party member as his deputy on the grounds of political inexperience. Instead he appointed Labour millionairess and Quango Queen Nicky Gavron. Alongside Gavron, Lord Harris became Chair of the Metropolitan Police Committee. Both are loyal Blairites. He has now appointed Judith Mayhew, Corporation of London and aspiring Tory MP as City and Business advisor. The rainbow errs towards blue.

The price to pay for New Labour co-operation in running London was Livingstone's backing-off from a confrontation over the privatisation of London underground. In March Livingstone promised: 'I'll use all my resources, everything I can mobilise, including a court challenge, if the government doesn't drop their proposal to break up the tube and go for partial privatisation.' Immediately after the election John Prescott confirmed that New Labour would go ahead with its privatisation plans, trumping Livingstone's claim to an electoral mandate with contrary promises made in the 1997 Labour manifesto. After the horse-trading over Livingstone's 'cabinet', the Mayor has now referred the whole question of the tube to an independent panel, in exactly the fashion promised by Frank Dobson in his election campaign.

More horse-trading must follow since Livingstone cannot run London or the GLA without the co-operation of the Labour Party. A two-thirds majority of the Assembly can block the Mayor's budget. Livingstone now has one overriding ambition – to get back into the Labour Party. Describing his 20-minute post-election phone-call to Prime Minister Blair, he made the agenda clear: 'I said I would be applying to join, but I didn't want to embarrass him. I'd wait, and clearly he'd want to wait and see how I'd perform as Mayor. We'll think about it after the summer.' Very consensual!

The other aspirations which have turned to dust are the claims of the London Socialist Alliance (SWP, Socialist Party et al) that Livingstone's mayoral campaign was a dramatic split with Labour, even though Livingstone made it clear he was not standing on a socialist programme and would remain loyal to the Labour leadership. The socialist left did badly in the election: the LSA polled 1.63% of the vote, the Socialist Labour Party 0.82% and the CPB 0.45%. The fascist British National Party polled 2.87%.

Socialist Worker claimed this as a major victory if you add together all the left of Labour votes. You can hardly blame them for this since, these days, no candidate or party ever admits defeat; they all claim that even the most dismal results are victories. But no matter how you read the election entrails these results were a simple demonstration of weakness. Socialists who supported the LSA's campaign, hitched to the Livingstone wagon, soon found themselves derailed. We must wait now for the next general election when the SWP and the rest of the left will once again call for a vote for Labour.

FRFI 155 June / July 2000

 

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