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20 December 1999

My vision for London

By Malcolm McLaren

The man who created the Sex Pistols – and thus unleashed punk upon an unsuspecting world – launches his bid to become mayor of London in this issue of the New Statesman. Alan McGee, of Creation Records, and the man behind Oasis, will fund and manage the campaign. London-born and London-based, Malcolm McLaren has variously been involved in art, fashion and protest.

No politicians for mayor! The mayor of London must not be associated with any political party – he or she should be wholly independent. Why? Because all the candidates so far have revealed that their positions are almost entirely dictated by their parties. If and when their views are in conflict with that party, their only option is to shut up or get out.

Surely, rather than represent any particular political group, the mayor should represent London – the general public at large. He or she should be free to lobby all parties and apply all the necessary pressures for and on behalf of the general good of those who live in London.

That’s the mayor I want; but look at the candidates so far. Frank Dobson, the former minister of health, was asked (or told) by his party to run for mayor. Frank Dobson is a Yorkshireman, not a Londoner; moreover, it appears that he was instructed by new Labour to give up a ministerial post in order to run. Meanwhile, Ken Livingstone, the Labour MP, doesn’t know whether to follow the noble pursuit of putting his personal principles above his party’s policies for fear of losing his party’s support. But what about London’s support?

Finally, Sally Kramer, the Liberal Democrat candidate, is the only one who actually has a manifesto – yet in reading it, I became lost in a grey world of well-meaning but meaningless political jargon, where endless repetitions of the word “community” formed a nonsensical mantra.

I began to feel disenfranchised; defrauded.

If I think back to the Thatcherite Britain of the eighties, I remember that the government decided then to get rid of the Greater London Council because of its anti-government stand. Ten years on, new Labour has supported devolution for Scotland, Wales and Ireland. It has now given London the right to a mayor – but on what terms?

Corporate life is taking over public life, and the new Labour government does not stand in its way. We are living in the spectacle of our city’s commodification. Our freedom of choice has been removed. I have never seen so many corporate franchises – and, as a result, London is destroying independent artisans. London’s independence and its individuals are being hounded out of existence.

I have never seen so many restaurants, coffee shops, so many places to go to buy things, so much to consume; yet London has never seemed so dull. The cappuccino bar culture that Tony Blair raves about looks set to dominate the whole of central London’s lifestyle. Its insidious proclamations – “mission statements” – written across shop windows tell us that we should be following their corporate line and tell us how we should work, how we should drink our coffee, how we should enjoy ourselves . . . the only place I feel free of this new tyranny is in bed!

Are we to become part of what I would call a “fake” London? A London that alienates Londoners and tourists alike? London forces all of us to spend more on the simplest of conveniences than any other city in the world. This is not progress, this is a corporate takeover of our very lives and city, and can only be stopped by a mayor who refuses to toe the party line.

There are two words that come to mind regarding the culture of London today: “authenticity” and “karaoke”. On the one hand, there are those of us who desire real food, real people, real places and affordable prices. We seek the genuine thrill in discovering the chance encounter, and an authentic life that stimulates. The alternative is chemically induced, genetically modified food; obedient people; identical, themed environments where everything is predictable. This is life by proxy, bereft of the messy process of creativity: a karaoke world.

Karaoke is mouthing other people’s words and taking no responsibility beyond the actual performance.

These days, everything and everybody is for sale. When will the new generation of Londoners stand up and say “I am not for sale”? Soon, I believe – and I can’t wait for that moment.

I have often been seen as a cartoon and sometimes enjoyed it (the perfumed garden of fame – a primrose path to Hello! magazine). But the demand for success and celebrity at all costs has made me feel that I am living under the legacy of those we fought against during the last war. For the Nazis invented the media and branded a nation. They created logos, uniforms and a “mission statement” to die for. Theirs was the first government-controlled “corporate lifestyle”. We have stepped into their mould: today, you no longer watch the advertisement – you are part of it.

It is no coincidence that postwar America turned itself from a manufacturing economy into an information society and sold its culture and products across the world. Cool Britannia is its bastard offspring.

London is losing its memory. If we are to save London, the mayor must start to believe in its ruins – dig through its debris and reclaim it. Londoners will then have a city that is owned by its people. The culture will reflect this.

London must have an independent spokesperson at its helm, to act against its main pollutants – those politicians who will inevitably allow the corporate takeover of London that will destroy the capital’s true and authentic self. If we’re going to have a mayor, let he or she be an authentic candidate. Otherwise, hand it over to a board of politicians, advertising execs, TV companies, news moguls, cappuccino bar entrepreneurs and the mobile phone and music industries – and let’s just get this sell-out over with.

I have never voted for any political party for the reasons I have outlined above. The mayor of London is an important role. Let’s keep it from the politicians.

Points to ponder: the McLaren Manifesto

1. Housing: The government has failed the homeless. The mayor should create a London homeless lottery system. Tickets will be sold by the homeless like the Big Issue. Computer hard- and software would allow the administration of the lottery to be run from street-corner kiosks. All money raised through ticket sales would go directly into housing, which would be designed and built by the homeless themselves. This would result in some great new buildings, with eclectic styles and taste – a real addition to our capital, rather than the faceless government housing schemes that have destroyed so much of the city. No existing council or government-owned housing would be allowed to remain empty. There would also be pressure to use the space over shops – many London high streets are empty above shop level. Multiple use would lead to safer streets and livelier ones.

2. Education: Revive the Ilea, which provided adult education at affordable prices – £1 per year for those on subsidies or in full-time education. These courses serve social as well as educational ends. Students can study anything from belly dancing to the bassoon. Currently the courses are underfunded and too expensive, which means they are undersubscribed and many have had to shut down.

3. Transport: Bring back electric transport – more environmentally friendly. trams running the two main axes through London (N-S and E-W) should be free during off peak hours. More should be made of the Thames by introducing water/river buses, which would be operated by London Transport. We should turn to alternative means of transport, such as rickshaws, bicycles and horses. Reduce the number of cars coming into London by imposing a direct tax. We should give people incentives to buy electric cars by allowing them to park anywhere. Traffic control (wardens, fines, clamping and so on) should directly fund public transport.

4. London sports week: London’s boroughs should have their own football teams and compete annually.

5. Lobby for decriminalising (some) drugs: Use Amsterdam as a model to reduce organised crime in the capital. This would have an added benefit: police would not waste time chasing pot-smokers.

6. No fees for museums or art galleries: Londoners should not pay entrance fees for museums or galleries, but should be able to drift through public buildings as alternative routes through town. All non-UK residents entering Britain would pay an entrance tax (collected at airports) to be directed into national collections.

7. Flag for London: Create the first ever multi-ethnic flag for the 21st century to reflect the true population of London.

8. Reclaim public places: Parks, squares, churches and the Thames should be open night and day. We should introduce bars in public libraries; drink a glass of Guinness while reading Dickens.

9. London carnival: To be held by different groups from across London, the carnival would take over Oxford Street. We would also establish a Don’t Buy Anything Day, and a No Car Day will allow kids to play in the streets.

10. Chains/cappuccino culture: Restructure rates in order to tax business according to scale. Chains such as Pret A Manger, for instance, now pay the same rates as a local florist. If we don’t save small businesses, London will lose its soul and become like Singapore or Hong Kong – a shrine to capitalism.

11. Legalise brothels opposite the Houses of Parliament This will help get rid of sleaze scandals in the government and allow us to focus on the real bullshit that the elite produces.

12. Hologram of Dixon of Dock Green: Introduce information stations, the BBC’s famous old-fashioned neighbourly copper – “virtual reality” information covering street directions, train and bus information and suchlike.

13. Popular protest: London has a proud history of freedom of expression – anarchists, revolutionaries and dissidents have written their pamphlets here. Street protest is every Londoner’s right and should never be stomped upon.

14. Licensing: Certain areas to be designated 24-hour zones with no licensing restrictions so that we encourage chance encounters.

15. Website democracy: New technology could encourage a more responsive democracy, with local voters using the web to voice their opinion on anything from whose statue should be put up or taken down, to one-way streets.

16. Artisans in Oxford Street: With more e-commerce, old-fashioned department stores should be more diversified, welcoming artisans. Shoemakers could set up their workshops in John Lewis, table-makers in Selfridges. Subsidise artisans and allow Londoners into the process of production.

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