Monday, April 28, 2008

London's Crazy Choice

Well at least the good old metropolis has thrown up a colourful election battle. We complain all the time about colourless politicans, and when we're not doing that we pretend that personality has no place in politics, which is, to use a Boris-ism, utter rot. So, in a sense, London is delivering! Ken, Boris, and Sutton Grammar's most prominent old boy, all adding colour to the capital's politics. And the winner of this election can boast the second biggest personal electoral mandate in western Europe, second only to the president of France.

But who would be best?

'Ken' has had two terms and, in fairness, some solid achievements. While he is damaged goods as a Labour candidate (didn't we really prefer the idea of an Independent?), he has introduced the congestion charge, and provided strong central leadership. He's also become too cosy in his sinecure, too inclined to believe his own not inexpensive propaganda, too dependent on a circle of cronies getting their noses into the trough, and if elections are about one thing they are surely about reminding politicians of who their ultimate paymasters are. Livingstone gives little sense that he understands the leasehold nature of his post, and has offered few fresh ideas in this, his third election race.

Then there's 'Boris'. Crazy name, crazy guy. The Conservatives had difficulty getting a credible candidate for this key race - a sign of the real paucity of Conservative talent, incidentally - and in the end settled for Boris because, if nothing else (and many would argue that there is nothing else), he's well known and colourful. Now, thanks in part to the supersonic slide in Gordon Brown's fortunes, Boris is in with a chance of victory. But he remains a bumbler, his much vaunted intellect consistently fails to show itself, and he has trouble detailing serious political solutions to London's problems, or convincing us of his managerial experience. However, the experience issue is a misnomer. Politicians need vision and clarity of purpose - they can get minions to do the admin drudgery of their jobs. Tony Blair had no managerial experience before becoming prime minister. Livingstone had none before he first became London leader (in his earlier, more disastrous incarnation as GLC leader). Experience is not Johnson's problem - clarity of vision is, and here I think he gets half marks. He has effectively identified the crime issue and offers big proposals to deal with it. As the incumbent, Livingstone is certainly less credible when it comes to new ideas - after all, he's had eight years to show us his mettle.

Finally, there's Paddick. Humourless and a bit shrill (he gave an awful performance on 'Question Time' last week - as if he had misinterpreted the advice to show confidence and charisma and adopted a rather boorish habit of hectoring instead), he has got what should be an excellent cv in his former police experience. That he is a better candidate than the Liberals' last performer, Susan Kramer, is certainly the case. Nonetheless, he lacks personal charisma and doesn't make up for it in radical, eye-catching policy ideas. He seems doomed, as ever, to the fate of all Liberal banner wielders, that of being a footnote in election history.

I'm not a great believer in third terms. The Americans rightly forbid them for their presidents and many of their state office holders (including the mayoralty of New York, to Giuliani's disgust), and the experience of the two recent prime ministers who have gone on into third terms has not been encouraging. So, through gritted teeth, I will give Boris my vote. But he'll get the second preference - the Christian chap's getting my first!

4 comments:

D Carnell said...

Welcome back. I always enjoy your insight and for the most part your analysis is pretty astute here.

Then you go and ruin it all by saying your voting for the Christian Choice candidate?!?! Oh good grief.

I don't object to your religious bent but surely even you can see this guy is one commandment short of a tablet.

His aims? To "promote marriage". How exactly? Costly advertisements telling us how wonderful it is? Or does he suddenly have new legal powers we haven't been made aware of to change the tax system for those married Londoners. Unless you've moved quickly in recent times you and I will both lose out.

To "Champion London's unborn". Well let's call a spade a spade and say he is pro-life shall we. As much as I disagree vehmently on this issue it is, again, something over which the Mayor has no power.

To stop the building of a so-called "mega-mosque" in East London. Yes, heaven forbid one of London's largest communities should have an elegant place in which to worship. Make them do it in back-rooms of pubs!

To "end the (alleged) corruption in City Hall". Why the paranthesis? How can you promise to end something you don't even know exists or not?

The man is a fool. Please just spoil your ballot or something.

All the best.

Comrade MAjor said...

"End London's Tartan taxes!" English Dems all the way. :D And secondly the socialists. Too long have they been absent!

GM said...

David, thanks for your comments and as ever you provoke some interesting arguments. I should, therefore, expand on my decision to vote for Alan Craig, the Christian candidate, and respond to some of your attacks on him!

The thrust of Alan Craig's campaign is to promote social action and stability in London. He has worked as a councillor in Newham, one of London's poorer boroughs, and has a good track record of work for the less well off. As a Christian, he certainly seems to understand the demands of the 'social gospel'.

You raise a concern about his stance on marriage. I must confess that, as a single man with no desire to get married, I do not feel particularly marginalised by Craig's views that marriage is a cornerstone of strong family networks, and thus of the wider community. His proposals to support marriage are not dissimilar to Tory ones (which won't appeal any more to you, I know!), involving a small financial break, and he shows equal concern to limit parental working hours to allow fathers and mothers to spend more time with their children.

His opposition to the mega-mosque also needs to be seen in context. He does not oppose the building of mosques in general and supports a diverse London. This particular mosque, however, is the subject of controversy because of the Wahhabi-linked Islamic sect which is proposing to build it. Their divisive and alienating approach has caused real concern in the British muslim community, and their potential to generate greater division in our secular society, from a specifically anti-western viewpoint, has been identified by many different observers. The Chairman of the Muslim Educational Centre in Oxford wrote a clear and convincing letter to the 'Times' on March 23rd. detailing the reasons for his own opposition to the mosque. Craig's stance is neither knee-jerk nor exclusionist, as you implied I think.

I do not believe in theocracies on earth, and I do not endorse every viewpoint propounded by Alan Craig, but I do think he is running a thought-through, persuasive campaign that is distinctive from the others and offers some worthwhile ideas. His election broadcast on youtube is well worth watching. I think you'll see a concerned citizen motivated by his faith to take a stand; not a fascistic moral authoritarian as you imply!

D Carnell said...

Giles, thanks for your reply. It's all done and dusted now and I'm not expecting your man to have excelled himself in the polls but never mind. You have raised some interesting points in your retort and I'll seek to address them shortly. But first, you have noticeably fail;ed to answer my criticism that many of tyhe platforms Alan Craig is standing on fall well outside the duristiction of the Mayor of London.

Marriage, abortion, work-life balance. These are worthy platforms for discussion and although I profoundly diasgree with him (and presumably you) on most of them the point remains that they are not something the Mayor's legislative powers allow him to exercise control over. So why use them as manifesto commitments?

I don't object to him merely because he is Christian (although I have church/state issues) but I don't think arguing our positions on tax-breaks for married couples is goign to go anywhere. I'm surprised, though, that you feel that this doesn't matter because you have no interest in marriage. Nor do I in women's rights, but I'd be certain to vote against anyone curtailing them! I think we are in agreement on parents working hours though.

Perhaps I need to eat humble pie on the mosque issue. I know to little of it to convincingly argue for its building and on the face of the issue it seems unnecessarily large and espouses a rather unpleasant version of Islam. I wonder if Alan really knows his stuff though or is he pandering to the rampant islamophobia in that part of London?

I didn't suggest your political outlook was dominated by religious dogma and I have to much respect for you to consider such a thing. But I do worry when someone of your intelligence feels the need to vote for a fringe candidate with devisive religious/political views because he is "different".

Perhaps this is a poor reflection on the state of British politics and the lack of real choice in what should be an important election.

Best regards.