Friday, 18 November 2011

London deserves better than this

The balance of power around the globe may well be shifting dramatically from the old capitals of the west towards the economic powerhouses of China and India, but it would be a churlish person who denied London’s continuing status as one of the world’s great cities. It seems astonishing, therefore, that the choice facing voters in the 2012 mayoral election is between an eccentric toff, an uncharismatic former police commander and a leftist relic.

The relic in question, one Kenneth Robert Livingstone, was quoted today in the London Evening Standard as encouraging members of the public to bring a ‘private prosecution’ against former premier Tony Blair for ‘war crimes’. I don’t want to get into a full-scale debate of the rights and wrongs of the war in Iraq, as they’ve been rehearsed too many times before. What interests me about Livingstone’s outburst is that there is surely no one else of prominence in the Labour Party – even those who disagreed vehemently with Blair – who would endorse such an extreme point of view.

What does Ed Miliband think of these opinions? Privately, I’m sure he is angered by Livingstone’s position on this – and a host of other - issues. The Labour Leader almost certainly sees the potential for continual embarrassment in the run-up to Red Ken’s defeat at the hands of Boris Johnson next year. But does he have the gumption to do what actually needs to be done? Can he establish his authority and replace Livingstone with a candidate that ordinary Londoners will actually want to support?

Of course, Livingstone did come through a democratic process, defeating the altogether more progressive Oona King in a vote among Labour members. The former mayor’s mandate does not, however, give him carte blanche to express any view he wishes. He either represents the Labour Party or he can choose to stand again as an independent, which would probably be the best course of action for all concerned.

My worry about Miliband is that he is a weak leader who is already being seen as some kind of caretaker by those members of the electorate who actually recognise him. The London elections really matter, because as things stand, the Tories are likely to come out of the contest looking good. Isn’t it preposterous that in a climate of austerity, with Cameron, Osborne and their Liberal Democrat pals plunging us back towards recession, that Labour should be on the back foot in the capital city? And preparing us for four more years of bumbling Boris?

I imagine the off-the-record response would be that Ken was elected and we don’t much like it, but there’s nothing we can do about it. Digging further, however, Miliband probably feels there’s simply no alternative candidate. He’ll remember the fiasco of Frank Dobson’s doomed mayoral campaign and perhaps imagine that there’s no one better around.

David’s not free by any chance, is he?