London deserves a better mayoral campaign

(Forum 2012, to be held 24-26 April 2012 in Cape Town … see below … )

Published on Labour Uncut, by Peter Watt, April 5, 2012.

… This has to be one of the least inspiring election campaigns that I have ever witnessed.  It seems to boil down to: vote for Ken because he isn’t Boris or vote for Boris because he isn’t Ken.  Unless you want to vote for some bloke called Brian whose most endearing feature seems to be that he isn’t called Boris or Ken.  I mean beyond that, what else is there? 

According to Ken’s website, he is going to give all Londoners a “Fare Deal” by cutting transport costs.  Well that’s good.  But is that it?  According to Boris’s website the main reason to vote for him is to re-elect him.  Not even a fare cut from Boris then.  But to be fair, if the opportunity to re-elect Boris is not enough to excite you then if you click through to the main site then you learn that by voting for Boris you can cut waste, create an Olympic legacy and…to be honest I got bored.  It’s not really the stuff of political legend is it?

They are both racing around London in battle buses (now there is a misnomer) boring Londoners into submission.  The most exciting thing to have happened so far involved Boris squaring up to Ken in LBC Radio’s lift and calling him a “f***ing liar”.  At least that delivered an injection of passion I suppose.  It’s just a pity that it took a discussion about each other’s tax affairs to get their respective pulses racing.

If it wasn’t so tragic, it would be funny.  They are fighting it out to be the leader of London – one of the world’s great cities in the year that the Olympics are coming to town no less.  But the race to the hot seat at City Hall is turning out to be less Olympic, more egg and spoon.  It is uninspiring and looks self-serving with neither side doing themselves any real favours.

Now I know that Ken’s campaign will point to the hundreds of people volunteering for him as a sign of their success.  But they aren’t volunteering because they are inspired by the possibility of a Ken Mayoralty, any more than Boris’s volunteers really care about a second term for Boris.  For the activists it is a tribal fight.  They want to win because winning is what really matters.  That’s certainly what motivated me to deliver leaflets and direct mail in recent weeks.  And that is all fine and dandy except that that passion is not transferring itself into the homes of the millions of Londoners eligible to vote in May.  Hundreds of thousands of pounds are being spent churning out millions of mailshots and emails while thousands of volunteers knock on even more doors, but the recipients generally couldn’t care less as the whole thing passes them by.  Voters have a sense that the contenders are competing in a game that doesn’t really involve them.

No doubt that there are lots of very good reasons to vote for either Ken or Boris.  The trouble is, they have both forgotten to tell people what they are, as they fight their own private battle while excluding their voters.  They have forgotten that voters don’t spend their entire time thinking about mayoral elections, or the career-impact the result might have on the protagonists just because they and their teams do.  Nor do they seem to have noticed that whatever they think their relative merits are, they have failed to get that message through to the majority of London’s voters.  Quite frankly people will vote on their impressions of the candidates, built up over years not weeks … (full text).

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