London is a divided city. It contains some of the richest people in the world, but most Londoners see little of the wealth.
Boroughs in the eastern half of London are among the poorest in Britain.
London is rightly hailed as one of the most multicultural cities in the world.
But there is little acknowledgement that many ethnic minorities suffer disproportionately from poverty – concentrated as they are in the poorest parts of the city.
They receive low wages despite their essential role in the economy. They drive the buses, clean the office and work in the health service.
Londoners have to pay the most expensive fares for one of the worst transport systems in the world. We commute further and longer because the cost of housing is forcing people further out.
All these issues and more should be central to the 1 May London election, which elects the mayor and the London Assembly.
The mayor and the assembly weren’t created by the government in an attempt to return direct democracy to the city. The intention was to create a strong elected mayor and a relatively weak assembly.
Ken Livingstone, who won as an independent in 2000 and then on a Labour ticket in 2004, has rightly tried to win more powers away from central government.
Everyone has two votes for mayor, for their first and second preferences, so the second votes of the smaller parties can be distributed between the two lead candidates.
The assembly is made up partly by 14 constituency members and partly by an 11-member list, elected by proportional representation. So 5 percent of the vote across London secures a seat.
In 2004 Respect came within a few thousand votes of achieving that, and I’m standing again to achieve that aim this time.
There is a strong need for a left assembly member who will stand up for the unions, against racism, for proper council housing and for cheap and decent public transport. The mix of candidates on the Respect list represents London’s diversity.
I am also standing for mayor. Last time I came fifth, ahead of the Greens and the Nazi BNP.
I have many points of agreement with Ken Livingstone – his anti-racist and anti-imperialist policies are a credit to London and he has seriously attempted to cut car use in the city.
He has been a high profile mayor who has attracted controversy and is now under sustained attack from London’s main paper, the Evening Standard.
We should defend Ken against attacks from the right, and we should support him against the Tory candidate Boris Johnson and his right wing agenda.
However that does not mean that we can or should be uncritical, because alongside Ken’s equality and environmental policies are another set, especially around economic issues.
These see London’s expansion as a business and finance centre as the main way of achieving reforms for those at the bottom.
This leads to a transport policy geared to industry’s needs, not to the needs of workers or passengers – including the privatisation of the East London Line.
It also leads to some pretty indefensible policies, like arguing tube workers should cross picket lines during disputes, or backing Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair when there were calls for his resignation after the killing of Jean Charles De Menezes.
Last weekend Ken was in Davos, at the World Economic Forum (WEF), intent on ensuring London becomes a “business hotspot”.
This is a gathering which brings together heads of multinational corporations with political leaders. The only time I was in Davos was to join anti-capitalists protesting against the neoliberal agenda the WEF promotes.
Ken is of course the official New Labour candidate, approved last time round by Tony Blair and now backed by Gordon Brown.
For all these reasons there should be a candidate to the left of Ken.
However, it is very important that we don’t let the Tory in, which is why I will be calling for all my voters to give Ken their second preference.
London needs voices in the assembly who will speak out against inequality and discrimination, who will argue for a London for the people who live and work in it, not the City bankers. Please support my campaign.
To join Respect’s campaign for London mayor and the London Assembly phone 020 8983 9671, or go to » www.respectcoalition.org
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