A London mayor will be no use if he can't tax and spend
I want to say now that I have no intention of putting my name forward as a candidate for London mayor. The idea started on a television show. Four "candidates" presented short manifestos and were then grilled first by "experts" (including Max Hastings, editor of the London Evening Standard) and then by the studio audience. I was one of the candidates; Ken Livingstone and Jeffrey Archer were among the others. When the audience voted, I did reasonably well, though Livingstone won. Then in the NS, Simon Heffer proposed a Saturday-morning hustings in Brixton where Trevor Phillips, one of the Labour frontrunners, and I would compete in a primary. Heffer suggested that the winner could easily win London. But I would not take the bait - even if I have little doubt as to who the winner would be.
Unlike the other candidates, I do not subscribe to the jingoism that describes London as the greatest city on Earth. It is not. It is rubbish-strewn, the transport is abominable, guns are blazing, death stalks the black population, policing is in crisis. Boats sink in the Thames claiming scores of lives and it takes years before an inquiry seeks the cause and apportions blame. In some wards, only 10 per cent vote in local elections.
Enter the mayor with little or no power to affect changes. The basis of all serious government activity is the collection of revenue and its expenditure. Without it, all political vision bites the dust. You become the prisoner of the benefactor. The mayoralty begins by being heavily circumscribed.
I don't have high hopes of the mayoral candidates. Archer showed his ignorance of a large section of the electorate, talking about how black women are now attractive, no longer overweight. I have lived in London for 40 years, fathered seven Londoners and grandfathered three others. I have lived north and south of the river, west and east London. I remember the women of my youth and salivate still. Black women did not come alive when Archer discovered them, hip did not begin with Naomi Campbell.
Livingstone continues to recycle old ideas, very much the boxer who comes out of retirement. As for Phillips, he is a friend, but I am afraid that what he said about the recent outbreak of gun violence was unfortunate: he likened it to a holocaust and described the young men involved as scum. I have said time and time again that these young men, and I include the murderers of Stephen Lawrence and other young blacks, the killers of Harlesden's youths and young Brixtonians, are part of an international crisis of inner cities. Morality has no place here. Only a political solution that tackles the permanent army of unemployed will be enough.