For many Londoners, the mayoral election appears as a choice between my record of delivering for London and Boris Johnson’s affable TV personality but evident lack of competence to run one of the world’s largest cities.
This has been epitomised by the contrast between the transformation of London’s bus services over the past 8 years, and the utter chaos of Boris Johnson’s flagship policy to introduce new Routemaster buses with conductors, which he now admits would cost over £100m, not the £8m he originally claimed.
But that choice is conditioned by far deeper issues, between two ways forward for the city and, therefore, two coalitions.
The first is united on issues such as good delivery of public transport, increasing police numbers to deal with crime, raising the supply of affordable housing, hostility to discrimination, opposition to the Iraq war and tackling climate change. It includes supporters of the Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens.
That alliance has made London successful economically – rated ahead of New York as the world’s No 1 business centre. It rejects Thatcherism and Johnson’s “trickle down” theory for tackling deprivation and proposes active steps to ensure all Londoners share in the city’s success. Its concern with the environment is to ensure success is sustainable.
The second, conservative, coalition behind Boris Johnson is symbolised by its support for the Iraq war and indifference to environmental issues. Boris Johnson backed George Bush in opposing the Kyoto climate treaty.
Its immediate practical expression is its record of running down London’s public transport, talking about crime while cutting police numbers, opposing affordable housing policies and indifference to the problems facing ethnic minorities or women. This coalition has acquired a sordid, if uninvited, partner through the BNP calling for a second-preference vote for Boris Johnson.
The practical implications of those differences are very deep. The big issues affecting Londoners’ quality of life cannot be solved by the private sector alone, but require a vibrant public sector too.
The congestion charge, London’s most famous policy innovation, encourages drivers to switch to public transport. London’s bus system has been transformed, not by deregulation but by tougher quality contracts for bus companies. With the bankruptcy of Metronet, the company that ran two-thirds of the public private partnership on the London Underground, we are bringing much of the company’s operations back into an integrated, publicly owned Tube system.
Tory cuts in police numbers in the 1990s led to a crime wave, with a 70% increase in murder and rape. We started to reverse this with 10,000 additional uniformed police officers, which allowed us to put the police back on the local beat. This has cut London’s crime for five years in a row, reduced murder by 28%, and allowed a realistic target of continuing crime reduction by 6% a year. Racist attacks have been cut by over 50% in eight years.
My policy that 50% of all new housing in London must be affordable is working, with house-building almost doubling. London’s climate change action plan is the most advanced in the world. The £25-a-day charge for gas guzzlers entering central London is another groundbreaking environmental policy.
And I am proud to have stood with the 70% of Londoners who oppose the Iraq war – a war that is disastrous for the people of Iraq, and which made our own city more vulnerable.
Johnson says he considers Margaret Thatcher the greatest 20th-century peacetime prime minister – Thatcher who abolished London’s democratic city government and brought the city’s public services and infrastructure, and therefore quality of life, to their knees.
The choice for London on 1 May is crystal clear.