I managed to resist the tingling temptation to scribble my thoughts second-handed on the basis of twitter, blogs and the smokescreen of the media. I waited until I’d seen Oona and Ken slug it out for myself. The wait was worth its while.
Ken Livingstone has seemed like such a hard candidate to beat to the Labour nomination that I have wondered why Oona King would even try. After last week’s showing it’s pretty clear why. The energy which filled London Young Labour’s (LYL) mayoral hustings could sum up our revitalising project in a phrase – the future, passion and pragmatism.
The future: the challenge is that large swathes of the electorate are wholly forgetful, while every part is forever looking forward. Oyster cards, neighbourhood policing, international renewable energy initiatives were each great achievements, but we were told in 2008 they were not great enough. Not life changing.
We were told not so much by those who voted against us, but by the majority of Londoners who didn’t come out. There are half-a-million newly eligible voters to add to the tally who didn’t come out in 2008. We must inspire and most crucially engage them.
Ken’s vision for the future has this intention: to turn London into a smart city and to ‘ensure there is a future in 100 years’. I admire this ambition to leave a mark on the global stage. But, to be frank, London voters in 2012 are more concerned with how our mayor is going to ensure that their six-year-old becomes a successful sixteen-year-old. What we have seen in the past has not resonated with this need. This election is about real life-changing ideas for the future.
Passion: contesting for mayor in 2012 will be very different from the last mayoral contest in 2008. We will be four years futher into the new media age, and that of the television debate. The exposure of our candidate in 2012 will be unprecedented. Personalities and attitudes will be scaled up and intensified. As we’ve seen in the leadership race, past decisions and ‘comments’ will be brought up raw as if they were made last week. And the indefensible will simply remain indefensible.
At the LYL mayoral hustings we saw a clear difference in the levels of passion of the two candidates. One thing really stood out for me: the mother – Oona – telling us how she wanted to put youth workers out where young people needed them and hearing of her struggle to keep her five year old boy away from negative peer pressure felt really genuine and personable. This is something the mayoral debates will relay back to the people whose votes Labour needs.
Pragmatism: There appears to be a differing approach between the two candidates. Ken has ideological grounding. But to the average (LYL) audience member – and the other young adults in the capital – getting onto the property ladder is going to make more of a difference to our lives then someone trying to articulate how many shuffles to the left they are.
The practical idea of a fund similar to the idea of pension contributions, which would provide tenants at the end of their tenure with a lump sum they could use perhaps as a deposit for their own property is something that would greatly help people aspiring to own a property.
Meanwhile, the big issue facing London is the prospect of cuts. Clegg’s PMQs could not have better demonstrated that this blu-tacked Con-dem government has nothing of the stability and self confidence of Thatcher’s conservative governments. Ken’s gung-ho nature adapted for the Thatcher era is not necessarily going to get us the best deals for Londoners today. Would you invite someone you know is unwilling to negotiate to a top table discussion? I just wonder whether being in that stand-off position could ever benefit Londoners in this day and age.
Oona, meanwhile, is trying to move policy debates further ahead. As the numbers of teen deaths mount, you have to start wondering whether more police officers that will reduce the knife murders. It is an approach that is clearly not enough, as Oona recognises. She argued that what matters as much is the quality and relationships between the service providers and receivers. The new approach in this new age must be to tackle the causes. That means sending out youth workers onto the streets to identify tensions before they escalate into murders, for example. We need a mayoral candidate like Oona who understands that.
It’s not necessarily fair, but the workings of the selection procedure put us in a position of great power and responsibility as we help decide the future of every Londoner, most of whom don’t have a say at this stage. I very much look forward to a fresh start under a new Labour leader. And I also want a mayoral candidate who will give us that in the capital.
Your vote is your judgment – be sure to read the small print.