Power to the people?

Andrew Boff says his main goal is democratic renewal including allowing Londoners the right to draw

Another Livingstone term will be a victory for central planning and the political class. It will weaken Boroughs and communities. We'll have more diktats, more disengagement and more contempt for the opinions of the people. One thing you can guarantee, however, is that there will be more razzmatazz and more distractions for people to take their minds off the fact that more and more decisions about their lives will be taken at City Hall. The people of London need power, Livingstone gives them parties.

The prime aim of my mayoralty will be a democratic renewal. I will be a mayor who uses the Leadership of London to empower Boroughs, communities and individuals.

Londoners will have the right to draw up their own policies and have them voted on by fellow Londoners. On raising a petition of a proportion (10% to 30%) of voters any proposal within the remit of the Mayor would be put to Londoners at the next ordinary election. The result would be binding on me.

Communities who think that their Boroughs are too large and remote will have my support in drafting proposals to break them into smaller, more accountable units.

I'll continue and strengthen the move towards community-based policing. I will insist that the Boroughs invest heavily in providing rewarding activities for disengaged young people.

Regeneration has become a dirty word in many parts of London because many projects seem to ignore the interests of people who are already there. You cannot defeat poverty by just moving out the poor people. New Labour let large corporations call the tune on redevelopment proposals thereby contributing to the widening gap between London's poor and the rest.

Family housing will be promoted and there will be no subsidies for one and two bedroomed high-rise flats. The Housing Strategy will take into account the building of communities rather than just houses. London doesn't need any more wind-swept ghettos without shops or services.

I will draft legislation to protect small shops and independents against unfair competition from large retailers. This will include the power for planning authorities to be able to refuse applications that are anti-competitive and to enable “Small Business Conservation Areas” to be set up.

I will fight against the damage to the environment and valuable green areas that over development and the Olympics threaten. We need a massive house-building programme but not one that throws away the natural and built heritage of London. I will commission an accessible "Bus for London" designed for London streets, not just buy in buses designed for other cities.

I'll be reducing the size of City Hall from 688 posts down to 200. Senior administrative functions will be carried out by lead officers in the Boroughs. This will flatten the management structure and bring the Boroughs into the Government of London rather than being below it.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times