On Thursday, 3rd May, Londoners will go to the ballot box to elect our
new Mayor. Despite other candidates standing it is clear that the choice
facing Londoners is simple: Tory or Labour, Boris or Ken. For working
Londoners struggling to make ends meet in the face of Tory cuts the
answer is equally simple: vote for Ken and kick out Boris!
On Thursday, 3rd May, Londoners will go to the ballot box to elect our new Mayor. Despite other candidates standing it is clear that the choice facing Londoners is simple: Tory or Labour, Boris or Ken. For working Londoners struggling to make ends meet in the face of Tory cuts the answer is equally simple: vote for Ken and kick out Boris!
Many people will of course be wondering whether these elections matter at all. After all what use is a Labour Mayor when the Tories and their Liberal Democrat lackeys are intent on carrying out their vicious austerity programme? But while the Mayor’s powers are limited, they still have a multi-million pound budget and control over some of the issues of greatest importance to Londoners. Perhaps more importantly the election of a Labour Mayor in London would serve as a kick in the teeth for Tories and help to galvanise the fight to bring this bosses’ government down.
Under Boris the living standards of ordinary Londoners have been continually eroded. He has uncritically supported the vast majority of government cuts, increased Tube fares by 56% while slashing transport budgets by 21% and actively encouraged the Metropolitan Police’s increasingly violent response to any signs of protest or dissent. He even had the cheek to label those who participated in last summers riots as ‘disgusting criminals’, while refusing to acknowledge that it was his policies that had contributed to the dire economic conditions and seething discontent that sparked the riots in the first place. All the while he was campaigning for tax cuts for the rich, calling for further anti-union legislation and defending bankers against the wave of public revulsion at their actions.
On all the major issues facing Londoners Boris has failed. In particular, London Housing is in a severe crisis. Over 360,000 households (approximately 10%) are currently on waiting lists for social housing in London, nearly double the amount in 2000. Of those who actually have homes things aren’t that much better with 200,000 Londoners with children living in overcrowded accommodation. Boris has done almost nothing to address these problems, even scrapping Ken’s already insufficient target of 50% of all new homes being ‘affordable’. This was replaced with the aim of building 50,000 new ‘affordable’ homes by 2011 and he hasn’t even managed to meet this modest target!
These serious problems are soon to be compounded by the government’s recently introduced housing benefit cap. In London the complete lack of social housing forces many poor families into private accommodation. However, private rents are nearly three times higher than social rents, meaning 22% of London’s private tenants rely on housing benefit to pay the rent. The housing benefit cap will simply make rents completely unaffordable for many, forcing thousands of families out of their homes. Indeed, even before the cap was introduced London experienced a 36% increase in homelessness over the last year alone, compared to a 14% rise nationally.
For his services to Londoners Boris receives a modest salary of £143,911 on top of which the Daily Telegraph pay him £250,000 a year for his weekly column, an amount he described as ‘Chicken Feed’! Combined with appalling policies this demonstrates that he is nothing more than a well fed servant of the ruling class, totally committed to their struggle to destroy the Labour movement and pass on the bill for the crisis to working people.
In this respect our Tory Mayor’s policies have guaranteed that London has been worse hit than many other areas of the country. Under his stewardship London has suffered bigger cuts than many other parts of the UK, with London councils facing average funding cuts of 11.25% whilst the average for the rest of England is 9.93%. Government policies have also led to London’s unemployment rate rising to the second highest in Britain, with many parts of London significantly higher.
Despite a number of problems Ken Livingstone’s programme stands in stark contrast to this record of slash and burn. In opposition to Boris’s rapidly rising public transport fares he has pledged an immediate cut in 2012 followed by a freeze in 2013. He is also committed to reintroducing the government’s scrapped Educational Maintenance Allowance and has backed a campaign to defend and extend council housing. All these policies are to be commended and will lead to a real improvement in the lives of Londoners.
However, his programme does not go anywhere near far enough in addressing the real problems faced by Londoners. The issue of housing is instructive in this respect. It is not enough to merely campaign to defend council housing; thousands of new homes need to be built now! The problem is of course that under capitalism homes are only built if they can be sold at a profit. The current recession has meant a collapse in house building and led to a situation where thousands of building workers are left unemployed while manufacturers of building materials lay off thousands more as their goods go unsold. The obvious solution is to nationalise the construction industry under workers control and utilise its resources to build the homes that people need.
In addition, Ken’s focus on increasing police numbers and his uncritical support for the Met’s violent tactics is incredibly unhelpful. Only by addressing the social and economic causes will crime be reduced; arguments about police numbers are merely a distraction from the real issues.
In the final analysis however even the best socialist programme for London is not sufficient on its own. We are facing perhaps the deepest and most dangerous crisis in the history of Capitalism. In Britain and much of the rest of the world this has manifested itself as a crisis of public debt with governments of every political allegiance being forced by the logic of the markets down the road of austerity with its attendant attacks on the working class. In this context even the minor reforms proffered by Ken are not sustainable. Sooner or later the government will try to snatch them back in search of greater and greater cuts as the crisis deepens.
If Ken is to truly fight for the interests of the working people and the Labour movement that supports him, he must use the London Mayoralty as a rallying point for the fightback against Tory austerity. Up and down the country Labour councils are caving into the government and accepting their programme of cuts. If a Labour Mayor in London were to refuse to implement any cuts, this would serve as a powerful example to other Labour leaders and provide the basis upon which to build a mass campaign against the Tory government on a national level. As leader of the then Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s Ken abdicated his responsibility and caved into Thatcher, leaving the courageous Liverpool Council to fight alone. This time around however the depth of the crisis means that the stakes are that much higher. The thousands of trade unionists and Labour party rank and file that support Ken must demand that if elected, he stands firm against the government and lives up to the name ‘Red’ Ken by fighting for genuine socialist policies.
Some on the left have come forward and said that on the basis of such things as alleged tax evasion, they cannot vote for Livingstone. These people need to understand that the question of who to vote for in this election is a class question and in this there is no middle ground. It is a question of Tory versus Labour, of counter-reforms versus reforms, of the ruling class versus the working class. In this respect the labour movement must act now to kick out Boris and fight for socialist policies for London, Britain and the world.
- Vote Ken for Mayor and Kick Out Tory Boris!
- No To Fare Rises! Yes to Council House Building!
- No to all Cuts! Defend Jobs and Services!
- For a National Fightback Against the Government!
- Socialist Policies for London Now