London Elects a New Mayor: 2016

For those who don’t know, the City of London was a city built on many rivers and waterways. In point of fact over 21 rivers and tributaries flow in and around what is now the main metropolis of the United Kingdom. They have colourful names like:  The Crane, The Darent, The Mutton Brook, the Pool River, The Ching, The Moselle, The Quaggy, The Silk Stream, The Westbourne, The Wallbrook, The Fleet and The River Thames.

Where most of these rivers have passed into obscurity over the centuries, the River Thames has become London’s river, providing a vital industrial and economic centre while proving to be the original arbiter of London’s success as a capital over the last 2000 years.

As the city has evolved into today’s vibrant capital, the role of the Thames has diminished with the cities status as a financial centre ever increasingly important in determining its success. A prosperous city of London means a prosperous country as a whole.

In that prosperity, the political and economic need has arisen to have a Mayor, who is in tune with the people and businesses of the UK’s biggest city. The office of mayor has become as integral to the long-term future of the city as the River Thames once was before.  The Mayor is now an international figure, lobbying for the interests of London abroad and likewise safeguarding the interests of London in dealings with the government of Westminster. He and his colleagues in the London assembly play a vital role in local government in the city, administering transport, the police and overarching authority on the greater London councils.

Two men have fulfilled this obligation since the office was set up in 2000; Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. Now the time has come again to elect a new Mayor and in a few days 5.5 million Londoners will cast their votes.

There are 12 candidates currently seeking your vote from many different political parties, campaigning on a variety of diverse political issues and platforms from Women’s rights to the legalization of Cannabis and we are now in the final flurries of the election.  While many make convincing arguments on the rightness of their policies in comparison to their opponents, who realistically has the chance of winning?

While it may be somewhat romantic to think of a great underdog candidate becoming the next Mayor, it is highly unlikely that this will occur. What is more likely is a straight fight between the Labour Candidate Sadiq Khan and the Conservative Candidate Zac Goldsmith. As the two leading candidates they command both the biggest election budget and the biggest media coverage.

The coverage given to the candidates is ultimately the battleground on which this election has been fought and it has become a decidedly underhanded and dirty campaign.

Sadiq Khan has repeatedly been accused of having extremist sympathies by both Zac Goldsmith and those media outlets aligned to the Conservative party. As Mr Khan’s opinion polls have continued to rise, these attacks have become accusations of racism and Anti-Semitism. The racism opinions and media spin that have dogged Mr Khan’s campaign have spread to engulf the entire Labour party in anti-Semitism overtures. Other individuals within the labour party, chiefly the former mayor Ken Livingstone and the MP Naz Shah, have been forced to resign or have been suspended as the racism witch hunt continues. Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the labour party has attempted to mitigate the reputational damage by calling for an internal review of the parties’ codes and standards with regards to both racism and Anti-Semitism.

Despite the witch hunt engulfing his party and the allegations surrounding his own views, Sadiq Khan has managed to maintain his popularity amongst the voters of London. Mr Khan, being a practicing Muslim and the son of a London Bus driver embodies the very spirit of the new multi-cultural London. Indeed the doggedness of the slur campaign against him may have made him more popular than he otherwise would have been, encouraging a strong sympathy vote from the electorate. Although he and his wife Saadiya enjoy a more upper class status than the average voter in so much that she is a high-profile lawyer and he the Shadow Minister for London they can easily be perceived as being of the people (coming from humble beginnings and working their way up).

Zac Goldsmith, however cannot make this same claim. As the son of the billionaire financier and businessman Sir James Goldsmith, he has enjoyed a wealthy and upper class upbringing along with his two siblings, Benjamin and Jemima. Indeed his political career has to some degree mirrored this wealth and access to opportunities as he was placed at the top of the Conservative A-list in 2006 and subsequently won election to the safe seat of Richmond Park. Safe within what could be described as a very affluent Conservative area, he successfully increased his majority in the 2015 general election.

In announcing his standing for Mayor in September 2015, it could be suggested that he has overreached himself too soon and that a more seasoned political operator would prove more successful in this contest. A candidate with a more proven track record might have been more appealing to the electorate as a whole, but since none could be found the party has been forced to utilise a largely unproven politician.

And so, this assertion has proven to be accurate as Mr Goldsmith has led a campaign that has not captured the public imagination. It would take a special candidate to unlock what has traditionally been Labour’s city, Boris achieved it with sheer force of personality but Zac Goldsmith seemingly does not possess this magnetism.

Both candidates have run on very different platforms, Mr Goldsmith on one hand choosing to favour green policies designed to improve London’s environmental status and Mr Khan on the other seeking to improve the lives of everyday Londoners by a variety of transport, financial and housing concessions.

A London minus a Conservative Mayor would potentially be a significant impediment to the government who have enjoyed four years of relatively unscathed dealings with their man Boris Johnson. It is a period that could potentially come to an end if Mr Khan wins on Thursday and the Conservative party establishment have recognised this late in the campaign as Mr Goldsmith has floundered.

It is this realisation that has triggered the Conservative PR and spin machine to play the only card at their disposal: the Race card and the signal for muck raking of all sorts has commenced. Stories have been leaked, members past histories and affiliations have been examined meticulously and as a result we have been subjected to a very divisive final few weeks of the campaign.

Goldsmith, claiming that he is not the originator of these smears has been keen to benefit from them using his public appearances to appeal to those minority groups which may have been slighted by the allegations made. It is a risky strategy which doesn’t seem to be getting him the votes required to make this a closer contest and in point of fact this strategy could be considered to be backfiring on him. In any event is it a case of too much, too little, too late?

The temptation is not to mention the other candidates entirely but as open minded observers we would be unwise not to consider them.  None of them has greatly distinguished themselves, with the possible exception of Sian Berry, whose party political broadcast was frankly hilarious to watch. While there is no realistic chance of a winner from one of these parties, their chances of having members elected to the London assembly are significantly higher.

So now here we sit twenty-four hours away from Election Day, with a field of candidates that could be called the bottom of the barrel and no stand out winner. Mr Khan seems the most likely to triumph, according to most of the opinion polls and commentators, but I would suggest that we may see a slightly closer contest than is being suggested by the media.

In any event Londoners are faced with the choice and by Friday morning our capital city will have a new Mayor. A new man or woman will occupy the highest office in London local government, they will face new challenges both internal and external, they may ultimately prove to be ineffectual or they may rise to become the new arbiter of London’s success in the same way as the River Thames was the original.

 

© R Simmons. All Rights Reserved.

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