Perhaps owing to our status as a Kensington-based company, we have been repeatedly asked our opinion on the imminent elections for the post of Mayor of London, a position that – contrary to the expectations of many commentators – has taken on an increasingly high profile, not least owing to the fact that the incumbent is answerable to a constituency of over 7.5 million people which constitutes one of the world’s most dynamic conurbations.
Yet try as we might, we at Mediolana are struggling to get excited about an election which, at least in theory, should be one of the most thrilling political contests anywhere in global politics: a battle for representing and serving a city with neighbourhoods of almost every socio-economic profile imaginable within the developed world; a location where more than three hundred languages are spoken; one of a handful of genuine world metropolises.
Having surveyed the small mountain of multicoloured policy-filled literature that has dropped through our letterboxes during the last few weeks, we have concluded that there are a number of reasons that make the 2012 London mayoral election one to forget:
1. Lack of Ambition. The Conservative incumbent – one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (‘Boris Johnson’, ‘Bo-Jo’) – has some good ideas for what would be his second term in office, but they are disappointingly small in scale. His proposal to plant 20,000 trees on London’s streets is a noble notion, but considering that a city such as Istanbul – comparable in size to the UK’s capital, but with a smaller GDP – counts new saplings in the millions rather than the thousands, one is left wondering whether Johnson is really aware of the strides that are possible in this regard. Similarly, the current mayor has commissioned a truly outstanding ‘New Routemaster’ bus, yet has promised to roll just 600 of these out over the next four years, meaning that even in 2016 the NBL-type double-decker would comprise less than 10% of London’s bus fleet.
2. Lack of Ideas. Johnson’s only real electoral rival is Ken Livingstone, back in the Labour Party fold since January 2004 having won his first of two terms (2000-2004) as a maverick candidate outside the scope of a party machine. Staring at his campaign pamphlets, we wondered to ourselves: is this really the same man who once introduced visionary policies on transportation and air quality? The basic thrust of Livingstone’s campaign appears to be a series of virtually inconsequential financial subsidies: a 7% public transport fares reduction in a settlement where the price of a single bus journey starts at £1.30 is hardly pulsating; the restoration of a £30/week education grant, while welcome, is far from material.
3. Lack of Awareness. One thing that pretty much all the candidates – regardless of political hue – seem to share is their apparent blissful ignorance of the issues that preoccupy Londoners on a daily basis and which, if addressed, could make a real difference to the quality of life for millions of people. Twenty-four percent of Londoners would like to use a bike but refrain from doing so out of fear of getting squashed to death, yet we have heard no proposal for a Copenhagen-style network of segregated bikeways; vast swathes of the city are architecturally and socially conducive to riots, but the need for redeveloping these areas is scarcely touched on; and in an era where re-shoring is beginning to enter the economic lexicon, any initiatives to make London a hub for light industrial manufacturing capacity (and less reliant on the volatile and largely insolvent financial services sector) have passed us by. Roll on 2016?