The Other Election: London Mayor

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In a poll conducted by the Evening Standard about one week ago-it showed Boris Johnson being 13 points ahead of Ken Livingstone; but as things really begin to hot-up that lead has been reduced to six points.

[The View From London]


America is all excited about the on-going presidential nomination elections; here in London, we also have a race of our own.

There are 10 candidates contesting for the post of mayor of London.

Out of this fold, two main protagonists stand above the rest in their quest to clinch the coveted mayoral prize. Among them is the incumbent, Ken Livingstone. The other is Boris Johnson; so, this is actually a two horse race.

Mayor Livingstone, 63, is a Londoner-born and bred. He has held this position since the inception of the office of mayor in the year 2000. He was re-elected in 2004 and is now bidding for a third term come May 1, 2008.
Livingstone is a man who loves a challenge. When he first ran for Mayor in 2000, the Labor Party would not endorse his candidacy, due to fundamental differences in policy with the party leadership. He ran as an independent---and subsequently won---much to the chagrin of the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair.

The Mayor has been the architect of one of the most controversial schemes in recent times; namely the introduction of the congestion charge, a proposal that was recently rejected in New York City.

The congestion charge is designed to ease the flow of traffic during peak times in central London and also to fight against pollution. The Mayor saw the heavy traffic-congestion in London as an exigent problem that warranted immediate action---and used his mayoral position as carte blanche to eradicate the curse.

There was fierce opposition to this scheme from a wide section of the London community. Motorist thought they were unfairly penalized, businesses feared they would lose trade because their customers and suppliers would stay away during crucial periods and others tried to fight it on the basis that it was an illegal act.

Most recently the Porsche Motor Company has threatened to take the matter to court because some of their sports cars would not meet the low emission target set.

The mayor triumphed and the initial £5 (about $10) charge to drive into Central London during peak times on Monday to Friday has since risen to £8 ($16) and is soon expected to rise again to £25 ($50) especially for those who drive big SUV’s dubbed “Chelsea Tractors.”

These are some key policies from the Mayors official website that he believes will win him a third term in office: Continue investing to transform London's transport system - continue improving bus services, modernize the Tube, build Cross-rail and improve London rail services through London Over ground to raise service and safety standards, while holding down fares; continue the six per cent reduction in crime each year; add a further 1,000 police over the next year to London's existing record police numbers and maintain a dedicated police team in every neighborhood; safeguard the policy that 50 per cent of new homes should be cheaper homes to buy and homes at affordable rents; build a minimum fifty thousand new affordable homes in the next three years; introduce 24 hour operation of the Freedom Pass; giving older and disabled Londoners free travel before 9am and throughout the day Extend the student travel discount to Oyster One Day Travel cards; maintain free travel for under-18s on the buses; a £25 ($50) a day charge for high carbon-emitting gas guzzlers to enter the central London congestion zone and no charge for the greenest cars, with a London-wide Low Emission Zone to keep the worst polluting Lorries out of London; maintain good community relations - continue to reduce racist attacks, down more than fifty per cent over eight years; and, build youth centers for our young people, including a £78m program to set up youth centers and improve youth services throughout London to provide safe facilities outside school hours.

The candidate who poses the biggest threat to the current mayor is Boris Johnson. Johnson’s slogan is “Time for a change.” He is widely seen as a viable alternative to Livingstone. Johnson is the MP for Henley, in Oxfordshire, and a member of the Conservative Party.

Boris Johnson has suggested that there should be an amnesty for illegal immigrants. This did not go down well with Conservative party leadership. But Johnson maintains that this would give a clearer picture of the numbers living in the capital which would then enable better funding from government. Local authorities have voiced their anger at missing out on government funds because of the hidden population.

During a recent campaign trail Johnson said people should vote for him because he is a journalist. Journalists have the skills a mayor would need – asking questions, getting answers, and championing causes.

In a poll conducted by the Evening Standard about one week ago-it showed Boris Johnson being 13 points ahead of Ken Livingstone; but as things really begin to hot-up that lead has been reduced to six points. But some claim that the Evening Standard poll is misleading because it fails to take into account London’s ethnic minority population. 

These are some of the key tenets Johnson hopes will favor him over the current mayor:

Transport;-scrap bendy buses. [These buses are infamous for two main reasons; the first is that several have burst into flames while on active service, a very scary moment for anyone unlucky enough to be caught in that situation; secondly, the ease with which someone can get a free ride on the bus because there are three entry points and you need not produce a valid ticket (should you elect not to) before boarding the bus thus losing the capital millions in lost revenue. In fact Londoners have christened this vehicle “The free bus.” This so-called “free bus” is a godsend for anyone currently experiencing penury. It is quite an amusing site watching fare-dodgers leap off the bus once ticket inspectors come aboard].

Johnson says he will replace them with eco-friendly Route-masters with conductors and full access for disabled people. He plans to reform congestion charge and scrap the £25 ($50) levy on the most polluting cars. He would also introduce better cycling routes and safe cycling parking.

Housing: Increase the number of affordable homes, encourage building of more family homes with gardens and protect historic views.

Crime: Local community projects to steer young people away from crime--£2.6m ($5.2 million) on hand-held scanners and knife arches at transport hubs and a New York-style maps of criminal hotspots.

Environment: Supports low emission zone to improve air quality. Zero tolerance approach to littering and graffiti.

With about 350,000 Londoners expected to vote on May 1st 2008, there will be many more twist-and-turns before will get to the finishing hurdle just over two weeks from now.

Allimadi writes for The Black Star News from London


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