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James Morris: The Million Vote Mandate

James_morris James Morris, Chief Executive of Localis and Director of the London Policy Institute, looks at what Boris' priorities should be as mayor. Download the Million Vote Mandate report here.

The Million Vote Mandate, a report from Policy Exchange and Localis out today, (which has contributions from Andrew Gilligan, London Evening Standard journalist, Tony Travers, the leading London expert at the London School of Economics, Phil Taylor, Ealing Borough Councillor and London blogger, Gavin Lockhart, Head of the Crime and Justice Unit at Policy Exchange, Zac Goldsmith, Environmental Campaigner, and Steve Malanga, Editor of the City Journal, the policy powerhouse of the Manhattan Institute) is the first major report, since the Mayoral election, to ask the question: How can Boris use his million vote mandate to make his first term a success?

Five weeks after his dramatic election victory in which Boris received the votes of over a million Londoners in an election which saw a 10% increase in turnout, the heavy policy lifting is about to begin. A spate of new appointments and positive announcements – a range of talented deputy Mayors, a high powered CEO from the GLA drawn from business and the establishment of a forensic audit team charged with examining the costs of the GLA line by line – have all sent the right message: that this administration marks a decisive break from the past and that Boris is serious about delivering for London.

However, the big, high impact issues on which Boris’s first term will be judged are beginning to loom large. The continued intractability of the fight against knife crime; the delivery of the bloated Olympics project in a radically changed economic environment; clearing the ground for the roll-out of Crossrail, a £16bn headache in which the financial deal between the previous Mayor and the Treasury looks far from water-tight and the need to continue to take steps to improve the quality of life for all Londoners in the context of continued economic and environmental pressures, will all present considerable policy challenges to the Mayor and his team.

The successful delivery of the Olympics and Crossrail both require the Mayor to examine their respective business cases from first principles.  The credit crunch and economic slowdown (particularly the slow down in London’s property market) has fundamentally altered the financial assumptions upon which these massive projects are predicated. As Boris himself said in an interview on the Daily Telegraph on Saturday there is an urgent need for a new Olympic ‘master-plan’. Our report argues that Boris needs to take a much more sober and realistic view of the games than his predecessor.

He needs to treat with a high degree of scepticism the two strands of the legacy promise on which the benefits case for the Olympics were based: the grass-roots sporting legacy which is likely to be minimal and the regeneration of parts of East London plans for which are already proving to be controversial in the light of the likely economic backdrop to London 2012. The proximity of London 2012 to the next Mayoral elections gives it a potent political significance. Public perceptions of the success or failure of preparation for the games will, to a large extent, shape public perceptions of Boris’ first term.

This is where a distinctive governing style comes in. In order to navigate his way through the Scylla and Charybdis of these large scale projects with the potential for huge political aggravation he needs, as Andrew Gilligan argues in the report, to shape a distinctive governing style which is open, transparent and uses his instinctive populism and obvious popularity to really go into battle for London. He needs to take independent advice and attack vested interests and received wisdom wherever they present a block to progress. As Steve Malanga, Editor of the City Journal argues from a US perspective, the success of Giuliani and Bloomberg in New York was as a result of the fact that both men had a clear vision of what they wanted to achieve – particularly in relation to crime – and were prepared to be ruthless and relentless in the pursuit of their objectives.

Public perceptions of the rising tide of knife crime and youth gang violence in London have reached such a pitch that Boris needs to be equally clear, ruthless and relentless in his fight against crime in London. As Gavin Lockhart argues, there specific measures that he can take to start to tackle the problem: crime mapping, making the police more accountable to local communities, using the power he has as the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority to determine police priorities; working in partnership with local authorities and the voluntary sector to tackle the root causes of the problem. However, Boris also needs to use his ‘bully pulpit’ to smash the institutional resistance and complacency which he will find in some areas of the Metropolitan Police establishment; he must stand up as the directly elected representative of Londoners and demand action from London’s police.

He should also use his mandate, as Tony Travers argues, to argue for a radical re-shaping of London government. The Mayor of London is now, arguably, the second most powerful position in British political life; but the latter days of the Livingstone era demonstrated how unaccountable the Mayor can become when the current system lacks a coherent structure of accountabilities: on the conduct of the Mayor’s office, the appointments he makes and how the money he dispenses on behalf of Londoners is spent. Institutional reform of London government may not sound sexy; but it is of fundamental importance in taking the office of the Mayor to the next level where increased accountability can be traded for increased powers and policy responsibilities.

So Boris’ first term will be judged on the basis of how he handles these demanding policy challenges. However, as Zac Goldsmith also argues in the report one of the ironies was that Ken Livingstone put the big issue of the environment at the centre of his re-election campaign but still lost. This may have been because the environment notoriously oscillates up and down the political agenda according to the political and economic circumstances of the times; but also because the emphasis of Livingstone’s environmentalism was wrong. It was characterised too much my gesture politics and on issues which seemed remote from the lives of ordinary Londoners.  Londoners, as many surveys show, are concerned about the future sustainability of the city; but want practical action not the gesture politics of increased charges for so called ‘gas guzzlers’. As far as the environment is concerned small should be beautiful for Boris.

The million vote mandate Boris received presents him with a significant political opportunity. The transition is now all but over. The real work is about to begin.


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