Martin Bright, the political editor of the New Statesman, has argued in this magazine that I am unfit for office. And in the London Evening Standard, Bright told his readers, of my candidacy, that “writing as the political editor of Britain’s leading left-leaning magazine, I believe the time has come for the Labour Party to drop him as its candidate”. Whether the NS endorses this view of course is a matter for the magazine.
Four days after his Dispatches programme aired on Channel 4 on 21 January there was a gratifying response – a poll showed an increase in my lead in the mayoral election contest. What was the connection between the two? Voters cast their ballot in any election in the light of their overall judgement of a candidate. I doubt anyone agrees with everything any candidate does.
I stand on my record of running a popular left-wing, reforming administration that has pursued groundbreaking policies in major areas such as equalities, the congestion charge, aiding the less well-off with cheap transport, climate change and other important matters. My overriding principle has been to do the right thing for London.
The policy differences with the only electoral alternative, the Tory candidate for London Boris Johnson, are striking and self-evident.
My first key policy is large-scale investment to continue London’s economic success. London has overtaken New York as the world’s leading international economic centre and its booming economy requires the biggest investment programme in the city for half a century to ensure it stays that way. A large part will be private, but I am in no way embarrassed to state explicitly that a large part of this big infrastructural investment requires the public sector – Crossrail, buses, police, the congestion charge, Tube upgrades, affordable housing.
Johnson didn’t vote in parliament when Crossrail was debated; he opposes my policies for affordable housing; he opposed the congestion charge; and, in general, he doesn’t understand the economic requirements of a modern, large city.
I have zero confidence in the Tory myth of “automatic trickle-down” to ensure that all Londoners share in the benefits of that success, and I have therefore pursued active measures to ensure they do. Most of these measures, logically, have therefore been strongly opposed by my Tory opponents – free bus travel for under-18s, that half of new housing must be affordable, the extension of the Freedom Pass for older and disabled Londoners to a 24-hour concession, and the extension of travel discounts for students.
I believe London’s success must be sustainable in the long term. This means protecting the en vironment and tackling climate change. London chairs the international C40 group of cities fighting climate change and its Climate Change Action Plan is one of the most advanced of any city in the world – something that has now been recognised by Forum for the Future.
A key issue at the election is my proposal for a £25-a-day charge for the most CO2-emitting vehicles entering the congestion-charging zone and, after consultation, I will be able to take a decision on this in the coming month. On the environment, the choice is even starker. Johnson is one of the few politicians who supported George W Bush in opposing the Kyoto treaty.
Finally, as London is the most multi-ethnic city on earth, good community relations are of paramount importance to it. One of my proudest achievements is a nearly 60 per cent reduction in racist attacks in London since I have been in office. London is a thriving multicultural city. Johnson, in contrast, has sought to justify referring to black people as “piccaninnies” and expressed the view that South Africa under Nelson Mandela was the tyranny of black majority rule.
All of which explains my lead in the recent poll and why a choice for the New Statesman is rather clear. Instead of dealing with these central issues, Bright’s Dispatches programme chose to deal with matters such as subjecting a glass from which I had drunk at a People’s Questions when I had a bad throat to chemical analysis to find out whether it contained whisky – an investigation which, I am pleased to note, has invited some ridicule.
Londoners will rightly vote on the most important issues confronting the capital. London at the beginning of the 21st century is regularly rated the most successful city in the world. Huge numbers of people have contributed to that and I suffer from no illusions that this is all due to my policies. But it is equally improbable that the fact I have been mayor for the past eight years, pursuing policies that have been widely reported and in a number of cases internationally copied, has contributed nothing whatever to this.
In short, I have been able to run an administration which has shown that reforming left-wing politics can be extremely popular – something that should therefore be supported for its own sake, and even more so given the graphic character of the Tory alternative.