It is also getting nasty, especially since the Dispatches programme by Martin Bright last month which attacked Livingstone from a number of angles.
Both are well known figures, and already the level of media coverage surrounding the contest is high. Livingstone is facing daily attacks from London’s main paper, the Evening Standard, while representatives of ethnic minorities, not to mention the left, quake at the thought of Johnson running City Hall.
Londoners deserve more than discussion about the two main contenders. There are, and always have been, serious issues and Londoners need a serious debate about the future of the city. Housing and transport come pretty much top in priorities, but there are also education, inequality, poverty and, of course, crime, especially what is happening to our teenagers with gun and knife crime.
London gets by with its creaking infrastructure and ageing buildings because of the hard work of the majority of its citizens. If most of us took the attitude of the bankers and estate agents, always looking for the fastest buck, there would be few to care for the sick and elderly, to teach young children, to drive the buses or clean up the streets.
Despite the image of London as an unforgiving city, the unpaid work of families, friends and neighbours, campaigners and volunteers, manages to create communities and local areas which thrive as well as any.
Yet they do so against the odds. The working class and poor have always had to fight for space and recreation, decent housing, and the other things that make life bearable. They don’t want to be driven out of the inner city, as is happening in parts of east London, Kings Cross and the Elephant and Castle.
It’s clear that Johnson is happy with a city of the rich, where the poor are kept out of sight unless they are waiting on tables or cleaning people’s houses. That and his opposition to the diverse and multicultural London which is one of its greatest joys, should make it a no brainer to do everything to keep him out. However, that should not mean uncritically accepting Livingstone’s agenda.
There is much to agree with Livingstone about – his opposition to racism, especially in its most vicious current form of Islamophobia, his anti-nuclear and anti-war stance, his support for Chavez in Venezuela, and his equality policies. But there are also major areas of disagreement like his uncritical espousal of a form of “trickle down”, whereby the City and the financiers are left effectively unregulated to amass wealth which will supposedly benefit the whole city. His attitude to development in east London and the Olympics is similar: allow the multimillionaire firms to develop at huge cost to council tax payers and lottery grant losers, and this will help to expand the economy, providing jobs.
Most Londoners saw little benefit from the property and financial booms of recent years, as their working conditions worsened and they were forced to move further out to afford even the smallest flat. With a recession coming they are already being told they will have to make sacrifices in pay and conditions, as well as being caught by higher food, gas and electric prices. When workers such as tube workers have challenged the priorities of profit and privatisation, Livingstone has opposed their strikes.
Livingstone also defended Sir Ian Blair over the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes and seems to accept the police and government agenda over terror raids and stop and search.
For all these reasons there needs to be a left alternative candidate as mayor of London, and that’s why I’m standing for Respect, as I did in 2004, when I came fifth, beating the Greens and the BNP. The point of standing is to put forward policies which can shift the balance in London towards working people, which will stand up for young people and ethnic minorities, and which will demand emergency house building, public ownership, a decent wage for all and better public services. Standing in the mayoral campaign also increases the chances of getting elected onto the London Assembly.
There are two votes for mayor, and I’m calling on everyone who votes for me to give their second vote to Livingstone to make sure we keep Johnson out.
The divisions in Respect have made the run up to the election harder, but that is behind us now. We have to campaign for tens of thousands of votes across London – votes that we know are there. Every one of those votes will be a signal to the employers and the government that there are plenty of Londoners up for a fight and that we’re determined to make it a city for the people who live and work in it.
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