Ken Livingstone’s pledge to reinstate the Education Maintenance Allowance (EMA) for London students is an important moment in the Mayoral election. It’s a good example of how Labour could use the capital as a base to offer an alternative to austerity. After all, it was the conflict between the Greater London Council’s policies and those of the Conservative government that led Margaret Thatcher to abolish devolved government in the city. As Norman Tebbit stated with typical candour, the GLC was abolished because it was “left-wing, high spending and at odds with the government’s view of the world”. Livingstone has explicitly stated that the election is a chance to vote against “Osbornomics“.
The London EMA will pay sixth formers from poorer households (those with a combined income below £31,000) up to £30 a week to stay on at school or college. The challenge for Ken is to convince voters that this pledge is deliverable. At present, for instance, 68 per cent support his “fare deal” campaign but just 44 per cent believe he would keep to his promises in power. Until he narrows this credibility gap, Boris will be able to paint him as fiscally irresponsible.