Saturday, May 05, 2012

Local Elections!

It was nice to win 800+ seats, and not just hold off the SNP in Scotland, but win a string of wards in the south, taking Southampton, Norwich, Great Yarmouth, Exeter and many others. Labour wins general elections when Southern Labour finds it's groove and delivers victory, so this is an important milestone on the way to the next general election.

If you doubt it, click the following link to see an animated electoral map of Britain since 1832 - there is something thrilling about the way a few small red dots suddenly appear in Northern-England and Wales in the late 19thC and then sweep through Britain. When the red dots go south is when Labour wins general elections.

The other interesting thing about that map is how London, world city and great beating heart of Britannia, turns Labour in 1923, and then stays loyal to us, through the Great Depression, into the MacMillan era and throughout the Thatcher-Major years.

Even now it remains mainly Labour, so it's kind of sad that one of it's sons ended his career on Thursday, and by only about 63,000 votes out of more than 2 million cast.

Ken Livingstone's life and career was about London. He was born and bred in Lambeth, and the first steps in his political career involved him getting elected to Lambeth council and then controlling the GLC. When the GLC was abolished, he became a Labour MP for Brent East, a London constituency, and as soon as Blair established the London Mayorship, his ambition was to be Mayor of London, which he achieved in 2000 and again in 2004.

 In London legend, he's up there with Dick Whittington. He'll always be remembered for being open and putting the Congestion Charge into his manifesto, and then successfully enacting it and getting re-elected.

At the time of the Congestion Charge proposals, the Mayor of New York quipped that all of them would like to propose such a solution to the traffic problems of their cities, what was holding them back was whether they'd get re-elected after it was implemented.

Part of Ken's legend was not only that he was honest upfront about what he wanted to do - but that he made a success of it. That was achieved by shrewdly combining the congestion charge with improvements to the rest of London transport, and introducing the Oyster card. The Republican Michael Bloomberg tried to copy Ken in that other world city, New York, but failed to get his policy through. Cities like Singapore also successfully implemented a congestion charge, but unlike London's, it was done by fiat, rather than by democratic consent.

Ken Livingtone has his critics, but it takes a rare gutsy politician to be honest about a proposed solution before an election, to win democratic consent for it, to implement it successfully, and then to get re-elected on the back of it. This select group is tiny - Roosevelt in 1932, Thatcher in 1983, Blair in 1997. That's it.

Ken Livingstone's other great moment was his impromptu speech on the day of the 7/7 bombings, which he gave when in Singapore, having just won the Olympic games for London. Here's an excerpt:
This was a cowardly attack, which has resulted in injury and loss of life. Our thoughts are with everyone who has been injured, or lost loved ones. I want to thank the emergency services for the way they have responded. 
...I want to say one thing specifically to the world today. This was not a terrorist attack against the mighty and the powerful. It was not aimed at Presidents or Prime Ministers. It was aimed at ordinary, working-class Londoners, black and white, Muslim and Christian, Hindu and Jew, young and old. It was an indiscriminate attempt to slaughter, irrespective of any considerations for age, for class, for religion, or whatever. 
That isn't an ideology, it isn't even a perverted faith - it is just an indiscriminate attempt at mass murder and we know what the objective is. They seek to divide Londoners. They seek to turn Londoners against each other. I said yesterday to the International Olympic Committee, that the city of London is the greatest in the world, because everybody lives side by side in harmony. Londoners will not be divided by this cowardly attack. They will stand together in solidarity alongside those who have been injured and those who have been bereaved and that is why I'm proud to be the mayor of that city. 
Finally, I wish to speak directly to those who came to London today to take life. 
I know that you personally do not fear giving up your own life in order to take others - that is why you are so dangerous. But I know you fear that you may fail in your long-term objective to destroy our free society and I can show you why you will fail. 
In the days that follow look at our airports, look at our sea ports and look at our railway stations and, even after your cowardly attack, you will see that people from the rest of Britain, people from around the world will arrive in London to become Londoners and to fulfil their dreams and achieve their potential. 
They choose to come to London, as so many have come before because they come to be free, they come to live the life they choose, they come to be able to be themselves. They flee you because you tell them how they should live. They don't want that and nothing you do, however many of us you kill, will stop that flight to our city where freedom is strong and where people can live in harmony with one another. Whatever you do, however many you kill, you will fail.
I'm not being unkind to Blair when I say Ken's response was better.

So farewell Ken Livingstone. London will always remember you as one of it's most distinguished sons. You may have been defeated narrowly by Boris Johnson, but Boris is a piece of flotsam and trivia in the grand scheme of things. In a hundred years time you will be remembered as one of London's important mayors when Boris-I-spend-all-my-time-writing-frivolous-articles has long been forgotten.