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Vote Ken – but organise to fight!

On May 3, Londoners go to the polls to elect a new mayor. The two main candidates are the incumbent Tory candidate, Boris Johnson, and Labour’s Ken Livingstone, who was in office from 2000 to 2008. Workers’ Power is calling for a vote for Livingstone. Jeremy Dewar writesThe London Mayor is the top elected political post in England outside of parliament. London is the largest city in the European Union with a population of 12-14 million and while the Mayor has limited powers and responsibilities he does control the budgets for transport, police, the fire brigade, environment and development for the entire city.

While the Greater London Authority has the power of veto over the budget, the Mayor alone can choose how to spend the allocated £14 billion. This is a deeply undemocratic system and one which we would advise workers and socialists in other cities not to replicate, as the Mayor is inevitably less accountable to both his or her voters and his/her party.

Ironically, this has allowed Livingstone to draw up his own manifesto and position himself significantly to the left of the national Labour Party. The downside to this is that when he was last mayor he also veered off to the right, encouraging a laissez-faire attitude to the bankers, who grew rich under his 2000-08 terms, supporting the police shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and condemning striking tube workers.

However, since the office of Mayor exists and there is no campaign to abolish it, it is important that workers and young people use the election to fight for measures to counter the government’s austerity, oppression and poverty. They must hold Livingstone to account and demand that he takes real measures to tax the rich to pay for the transformation of poor and working class districts.

Ken’s pledges
Livingstone’s manifesto is broken down into six campaign pledges. While most of them would undoubtedly make a real difference in raising working people’s living standards, they fall far short of what is needed.

Transport: Ken says he will cut public transport fares by 7 per cent in October and raise them only by inflation thereafter. By contrast, Boris Johnson has raised fares by a massive 56 per cent and cut the transport budget by 21 per cent since 2008.

Childcare: Livingstone promises a £700 grant for low-income families to help pay the extortionate costs of childcare in the capital and fund more out-of-hours places in nurseries and crèches. However, this is merely providing a subsidy for the private sector, rather than funding a socialised alternative, which could be run under parents and workers’ control.

Energy bills: He claims to be able to save Londoners £150 a year by taking up energy companies’ offer to subsidise home insulation. Johnson failed to implement this. What is needed, however, is an energy company run by the municipality, so that pensioners and vulnerable people do not have to line the pockets of fat cats every time they need to heat their homes or cook a meal.

Housing: The Tory mayor has abolished Livingstone’s regulation that demanded half of all new housing has to be “affordable” and allowed the waiting list for council properties to rise to 360,000. In fact, half a million new homes are needed in the capital to abolish the terrible overcrowding and slum conditions. Livingstone has promised to set up a non-profit lettings agency and “campaign for living rents” – which is totally inadequate to meet the crisis.

Education Maintenance Allowance: Ken will bring back the EMA, worth up to £30 a week, for 16-19 year old students, a key demand of the student revolt of 2010. However, he is proposing to rob money from other parts of the budget for colleges and universities, most of which are already facing cuts. The youth deserve more funding for courses and apprenticeships, as well as a living grant.

Police: Here Livingstone is, not surprisingly, completely out of touch with many Londoners’ experience of the police. He wants to reverse Johnson’s cuts and put 1,700 more police on the streets. But young people – especially black men – suffer daily harassment from the Metropolitan Police. If Livingstone is sincere about righting the wrongs that led to last August’s riots, he must call for the sacking of racist cops, the disarming and disbanding of the special forces, like the TSG and CO19, and for killer police to be brought to justice.

Almost all of London’s trade unions support Livingstone’s candidacy, as do many black and ethnic minority organisations. We now need a mass campaign to get out the vote and put Livingstone back into office. But workers should also get ready to fight, whoever wins the election, if we are to make the rich bankers and speculators in the City of London pay for the crisis and deliver up the funds for an emergency programme to rebuild the capital and provide jobs for the unemployed.

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