Are Dobbo and Ken big enough for the city of Dickens?

I have in the past few days been pretty close to the mayoral argument. I chaired a meeting in east London only days after Frank Dobson was named the Labour Party candidate. He did not turn up and sent no apologies. Trevor Phillips, his running mate, replaced him.

All the candidates seemed to be saying the same thing. There were few fireworks in a lame and tame meeting, which was not well attended. I tried to crank up the meeting a gear or two, but nothing happened - or could happen until the "big man" sang.

Days later, two south London wards of the Labour Party invited me to address a joint meeting. Once their ward business was over, they ushered me in. They had just passed a resolution inviting Dobbo to step down in favour of Ken Livingstone. I got the impression that these resolutions were coming thick and fast from wards throughout London.

Here they seemed a rather moderate bunch: no chancers, no risk-takers, just a group of people, a dozen or so, stubbornly dissatisfied with the political fare they had been offered.

London, I said, was not the capital of England, but the capital of a civilisation that stretched throughout the Asian and African continents, the Caribbean and North America. The capital of the Old World, so to speak.

I have had to accept this truth from the day I was born. There was God, King George, my parents, my grandmother and London. Any joys, any presents that were visited upon children in my day were welcomed with the comment: "This is life in London." When I was a child in Trinidad, the wharves were lined with cargo boats coming from and heading to the London docks. The clothes we wore, much of the food we ate, all the luxuries of life we associated with London.

I arrived here 40 years ago and tasted freedom from my parents' Victorian-style constraints for the first time. I came to manhood in London, whose tax-paying citizens financed my education through the then London County Council. I travelled by public transport; I worked here, there and everywhere in the city, as postman, gardener, cook, waiter, civil servant, road-sweeper, bouncer, barman. You name it, I did it.

When I left home, my grandmother made me promise her one thing - that I would take a journey along the Thames, and write to her describing it in detail. I went along the river in awe, talking barely above a whisper to a boatman whose first mate was a Jamaican. They took me along for free and I have remained friends with Bunny, the first mate, to this day.

Now, shorn of its imperial cruelty, fully mended after Margaret Thatcher's assault on its majestic presence, London is ready, or so we thought, to resume her place as the centre of the Old World. The mayor's task is to excavate its huge past - the penmanship of Dickens, the poets and novelists; the development of science and so on - and return it to its citizenry and the world.

And what do we get? Livingstone mumbles on about the Tube and tells us that he lies awake thinking about the police. Susan Kramer tells us she is a banker (tempting a vicious play on the word); Steven Norris, like Ol' Man River, rolls along with everything; and Dobbo, now trying to imitate the lithe and mean Clint Eastwood, issues threats from blazing saddles. Are these people big enough to revive a great city?

The Labour members largely agreed with what I said. But I was asked one question. Was I romanticising colonialism and slavery?

Certainly not, I replied. There is a population born in and shaped by the anti-colonial sentiment of Nkrumah's Africa and Ghandi's India living in the once mean streets of Tower Hamlets and Brixton, enough to purge London of its part in an exploitative mercantile past. We have all returned to roost, and we are here to form part of our city's resurgence.

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