Monday, May 05, 2008

So long, Ken. Hello, Boris.

I don't know how much the news of this gets back home, and since many of our readers are Americans, I think it's probably OK to do a post on this:

We left London a Labour constituency a week ago and returned home yesterday to a city ruled by a Tory. One of the many victims in the local elections last week--Labour's worst shellacking in decades--was "Red" Ken Livingstone, the first-ever mayor of London's fifty-odd boroughs (not to be confused with the Lord Mayor of the City of London, which is ... a complicated distinction). As a non-voter, I didn't bother to pay too close of attention to the race. I think I can tell you more about the Clinton-Obama race than I can tell you about Ken v. Boris. I can tell you that in addition to believing in most of what he has done for the city, I admire Ken: He's a brave politician who doesn't parse words, and even if you disagree with him you can respect what he's done. I think London's congestion charge is a model for what every over-automobiled city needs to do to bring some sanity to how people move about. His deal with Hugo Chavez was a brilliant thumb in the eye of most First World leaders. He did compare one of his many interrogators, a Jewish reporter, to a concentration camp guard, and there was corruption, so I suppose there were plenty of reasons to hate Ken.

Most of my English friends are Labour-leaning, and so are fearful of what the new mayor will do. I'm not so much, even though I would have voted for Livingstone if I were allowed to vote. Boris Johnson is a bicycle rider himself, so he knows what it's like out there on the streets. He hates the bendy buses and will bring back board-at-the-back Routemasters, which I agree with, although the cost of putting two London transit staff on each bus may make it cost-prohibitive. Maybe at long last he'll sack Ian Blair, whose cover-up following the fatal shooting of an innocent man is one of the great unpunished crimes of our time.

My big fear with Johnson is that he'll do away with the congestion charge. His big support most likely came from the outer boroughs, and as such they probably feel unfairly burdened by the idea that they have to pay to drive their car into my neighborhood, no matter if the street and parking system isn't big enough to handle it, and never will be.

In truth, Ken's undoing was probably as much the fault of his party as himself. Labour has done much to alienate its core constituency, from their plans to get rid of the lowest tax bracket to their plans to allow police to jail terrorism suspects for up to 42 days before requiring that charges be filed. If your rank and file aren't excited about your program, you'll have problems in any election.

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