WELCOME TO THE CIRCUS
Ah - it's election time again. And if you're a Londoner with a thing for representative democracy, you must be having a right old jamboree. All the ingredients are there:
(a) an incomprehensible electoral system to defy all logic,
(b) breast-beating white men fighting for your attention like hyperactive children, and
(c) an hysterical media reminding us that, really, this is what separates us from the savages - a real chance to have your say about how your city is run - of course, nothing too radical, just a cross in a couple of boxes ... but still! ah, ain't democracy just grand?
Let's start with (a) - the system. The way votes are calculated for the London Assembly is bewildering - some Members will get in via first-past-the-post, the rest via PR. The important thing is that a party must get at least 5% of the overall vote to be eligible to gain seats. So if a large number of voters in, say, the Dagenham and Redbridge area vote BNP, the BNP would have to get at least 5% of the total London vote in order to win a seat. The idea being that very localised issues should not be allowed to dominate the pan-London picture. What this means is, if you are appalled by the idea of fascist representation in your city's Assembly, you must get out there and vote. The fewer moderates or progressives who vote, the larger the BNP's share of the vote will be.
The system of electing the Mayor is rather simpler. To win outright, a candidate must win 50% or more. Even in his golden years, Ken Livingstone only ever won 39%, so an outright victory is virtually impossible this time round. It's more likely that the election will be decided by adding the second-choice votes to the first-choice votes - whoever wins this, will be Mayor of London.
Part (b) - the candidates. The best of the candidates is Lindsey German - she has the policies, the correct philosophy for London, and an inclusive style which can win people over (not always the case with senior SWP figures). Sian Berry looks good on paper - though I can't say I've ever heard or seen her speak. Of course, neither of these will win.
The main objective, negative and pragmatic though it may be, is to stop Boris Johnson becoming Mayor. Johnson is a slippery customer, and Livingstone has obviously debated whether to lampoon him as a hopeless buffoon, or paint him as a more sinister, far-right figure. He has opted for the latter, which I think is sensible. Johnson supported the war in Iraq, supported the election of Bush in 00 and 04, opposed the Kyoto Treaty, opposed the minimum wage, wants to reduce the development of affordable housing in a city where demand already far outstrips supply, referred to black people as "picaninnies" and the Stephen Lawrence enquiry as "Orwellian". And from his absurd little Lend me your ears, he writes:
It was mesmerising, in April 2003, to stand in Baghdad and look at the contrast between the Americans and the people they had liberated. The Iraqis were skinny and dark, badly dressed and fed. The Americans rode in their Humvees (a vehicle that is eloquently bigger than our Land Rover: more slouching, bigger tyred, cooler). The marines had the shades with the slick little nick in the corner. They were taller and squarer than the indigenous people, with heavier chins and better dentition. They looked like a master race from outer space, or something from the pages of Judge Dredd…
Here is a statistic that you should be aware of, all you Fisks and Pilgers and Robin Cooks, who prophesied thousands and thousands of deaths. I went to see Qusay Ali Al-Mafraji, the head of the International Red Crescent in Baghdad. Though some nametags have been lost, and though some districts have yet to deliver their final tally, guess how many confirmed Iraqi dead he has listed, both military and civilian, for the Baghdad area? He told me it was 150, and he has no reason to lie.
150. Apparently, 42% of Londoners would vote for this guy as their first choice. Unbelievable.
Ken Livingstone is hardly flawless - his position on property development, on housing for working class people, on taxing of non-doms, on the role of big business etc has grown more conservative in recent years. But the congestion charge, his efforts at unifying London in all its diversity and his opposition to the war in Iraq from the start earn him my vote. If you plan to vote for another party as your first-choice, I think you should give Ken your vote as second choice.
As a postscript, the Lib Dems could have done well this year on the back of second choice votes, had they not picked such a poor candidate. Presumably Brian Paddick - the liberal copper - was picked for integrity and recogniseability. Alas, that's not enough (he's currently on 10%) - however visionary he was as Lambeth's Borough Commander, he has no vision for London that I can detect and is a deadly dull speaker. Of all the campaigns in 2008, the Lib Dems' appears the most pointless.
And (c) - the media? Well, for those of you who live outside of the capital, we have a number of free papers here in London which some people read on the tube, and most people use to wipe their bums. The Evening Standard is the grandaddy of these sordid little rags - unfortunately, it is not free, so it is for bourgeois bums only. The Standard has always hated Livingstone, and is supporting Johnson. The others run polls on which candidate's partner looks best in capri pants. London's a real shithole sometimes.