The 2012 London Mayoral Election

Leela: This may be their only chance to skate in their whole lives. Who are we to say they can't use this ice rink? 
Chaz: The mayor's aide, and his badge! Beat it kids! Come back when you got connections. 
Vogel: Alright kids. Back to the Orphanarium. You can slide around the gym in your socks.
- Futurama

Ken Livingstone was a good and bold Mayor during his time in office. After effectively delivering the Congestion Charge to help London cope with the demands of a growing city, he demonstrated vision and focus which saw London landmarks like Trafalgar Square and Exhibition Road transformed and East London make steady progress from backwater to the focal point of the Olympics.

His ideas were so good that the current Mayor is still enjoying the fruits of his labours, from the success of the London Overground network to the development of major clusters at key transport hubs like London Bridge, Kings Cross and Victoria (as envisaged in Livingstone’s London Plan) and, of course, the Boris Bikes.

This legacy aside, Boris has delivered virtually nothing during his time in office, doing exactly as he promised during his effective, but vacuous campaign of 2008.

Boris ballsed up the Olympic Stadium legacy, dawdled over the Emissions Charge, scrapped a range of river crossings and killed off projects like the pedestrianisation of Parliament Square, which has instead remained a dogs-breakfast at the heart of a World Heritage Site, fenced off from the public for much of the last four years.

He wasted enormous amounts of effort fighting an imagined conspiracy against ‘the motorist’ (as if they were a separate constituency from the people who walk, cycle and navigate the city via public transport), promising to re-phase lights and remove crossings, whose sole purpose, he suggested, were to inconvenience drivers. Four years on, it turns out virtually every crossing has a very good reason to be there and there is enormous community resistance to their removal. We’ve yet to meet a taxi driver who tells us that driving around the capital has become easier.

The cycle superhighways – a rare example of an eye-catching pledge from his 2008 campaign – were value engineered to the point of irrelevance and the abolition of the bendy bus happened a lot quicker than the arrival of its replacement.

The new Routemaster is an idea we’d love to be successful, so we’re prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that the public will take it to their hearts when it finally arrives, but the capacity problems that were foreseen as a result of scrapping bendies are now being felt and have not been properly mitigated.

The 1,000 ‘extra bobbies on the beat’ turn out to be the 1,000 extra bobbies on the beat that were agreed before he came to power. With the exception of a cable car across the Thames at Greenwich, the pipeline of big civic projects has dried up: Thameslink had nothing to do with Boris and his role in securing Crossrail was probably minimal.

Meanwhile the savings he promised London taxpayers have only been delivered if you accept his counterfactual, which argues that had Ken remained in power, his tax take would have continued to rise (this is probably a reasonable assertion). We’d rather have paid a little more and had a better place to live.

So if this was a re-run of the 2008 election, we’d back Ken like a shot. But despite the fact that the same names are in the hat again, it’s a very different election. Ken appears to have learned all the wrong lessons from the last four years, returning with an election strategy that is part Boris 2008, part George Galloway.

In 2008, Boris ran a campaign that was in tone and content, a national campaign by-proxy. He focused on sleaze and promised to cut Labour’s profligacy – two themes that would dominate at the General Election. It was depressing to see Londoners reward such a policy vacuum.

Instead of using his time in the wilderness to reflect on whether his poisonous identity politics was turning voters off, Ken has doubled down on the rhetoric, exposed himself to charges of rank hypocrisy over tax avoidance and delivered a set of pledges that are beyond the scope of the Mayor’s power to deliver and have very little to say about London’s particular challenges and opportunities. The Ken of 2000 used to court big business (he believed that if he could persuade enough BRIC companies to list in London, the future of the capital as an international centre for commerce would be secure). Now, his campaign site has nothing to say about business (and the jobs that come with it) at all.

The promise to reinstate EMA for London pupils is reliant on a huge array of different bodies all agreeing to fund Ken’s plan. His ‘fully funded’ plan to cut fares by drawing on a wad of cash that TfL is supposedly just sitting on because Boris is ‘out of touch’ (hard to believe that any Mayor could be so out of touch as to ignore an enormous pot of free money just before an election) is dismantled thoroughly by Channel 4’s Fact Check. Fares could be cut, but that would mean less money available for investment in transport infrastructure (or for contingencies like the Hammersmith flyover threatening to fall down). There is no free money.

Like Boris in 2008, Ken has delivered a plan designed to exploit public dissatisfaction with national government. It was a lamentable strategy four years ago, it is risible now, made worse by the contrast with the Ken of 2000. Livingstone is like Howard Kendall returning to Everton for a third time, or worse, Keegan giving it another go at Newcastle.

Read through his transport manifesto and there is a smattering of nice ideas, including a smart parking system and proper investment in the cycle super highways to improve safety. But the big stuff doesn’t come until the final page. There is a vague commitment to invest in a range of well-known projects (including the South London Line link to Victoria, but nothing about a Bakerloo Line extension), but nothing new or convincing.

SE London blogger Adam Bienkov is right, this race has become dominated by personality, but when there is so little policy to discuss, what else is there to talk about?

Boris is promising more of the same, which is to say not much. He has begun to show signs that he realises there’s more to the gig than he first thought, but it’s still small beer. He’s woken up to the need for new river crossings in East London (albeit he’s come up with a worse plan than the one he scrapped), his support for local high street communities (like Deptford) is welcome and he’s shown a bit of imagination with ideas like submerging Park Lane traffic to create a new approach to Hyde Park.

London deserves better than either candidate (there are others of course, but no-one with a hope of winning). The Mayoral election should not be about national politics, it should speak directly to our daily lives. But Boris is the incumbent. What’s Labour’s excuse?

If you've heard any exciting policies from a candidate, we'd love to hear about them.