The Tory focus on candidates’ finances proves that Boris has absolutely nothing positive to offer London writes Ken Livingstone. First published on the Guardian Comment Is Free website on Sunday 8 April.
The London mayoral election is that most unusual thing in politics – the chance for voters in tough times to make themselves better off, by £1,000, or more. Fear that this message may get through leaves the Conservative party with only one strategy: distraction. It is the tactic of the right everywhere.
While people are facing the most difficult economic times they have ever experienced, the Conservative campaign in London has sought to make the issue about the candidates’ tax arrangements. This space existed because of the relentless drive to personalise politics, a trend that has accelerated in recent years. It is an Americanisation of British political discourse that is challenged even by Conservatives who want politicians to address what the voters care about.
As the campaign moves on from this distraction, for one of the very rare occasions in my life I agree with John Redwood, who writes: “The media fascination with the exchanges between Boris and Ken over personal tax and income is crowding out the more important matters of what Ken or Boris would do to the council tax, the policing, and the transport of London.”
None of this is surprising – in London, the Conservatives have absolutely nothing positive to say at all. Ask yourself if you know what Boris Johnson is even offering.
British politics appears to be at a log-jam. The Conservatives are facing a period of sustained unpopularity. The main driver of this is the budget for millionaires and the disastrous decisions taken by David Cameron and George Osborne over the economy. The country is run by a government with no mandate for its brutal onslaught on the NHS and the public finances.
Last Friday 72,600 London households had tax credits taken away. Overall 118,805 of the capital’s households lost out in all of Friday’s changes – at least 250,000 Londoners were affected. Still the government maintains the attack.
The majority are left feeling voiceless. They know Labour will get their vote in three years’ time to form a new government – but what to do now?
London Labour’s programme for the voiceless majority gives a chance of real change. Through our fares cut the average London farepayer will be £1,000 better off over four years: a real improvement in living standards when times are tough. We will do it through using the annual surplus, not touching either the underspent investment budget or affecting existing services.
An energy co-op and a programme to insulate London homes will cut household bills, making people £150 or more better off. A non-profit lettings agency will cut out rip-off fees for tenants. The government has an intense phobia of young people but I will restore education maintenance allowance of £30 a week for young people who want to stay in education; and through a programme of loans and grants we will start work to reduce childcare costs.
That is the scale of difference an elected mayor can make and why that system is likely to spread to other parts of the country.
To get this change London needs to build movements: of farepayers; of the young robbed through the EMA cuts and student fees hikes; of older Londoners treated with contempt through winter fuel allowance cuts and a pensions grab.
In pursuit of this we have mobilised activists as never before. On 10 April , hundreds will gather at stations across London to campaign to slash fares. Next weekend our supporters will talk to 10 neighbours each about how they will be £1,000 better off. We are the first to have an online supporter community, YourKen.org. The strategy of the right in the face of this is very simple – diversion, over the past few days, through a peripheral focus on personal finances.
Elections in the nations, regions and localities of Britain give people the chance to vote for an alternative that protects them to the maximum possible extent against difficult economic conditions and an uncaring Conservative establishment. London now has that chance, too.