The opening rounds have been fired in the next battle for the political hearts and minds of Londoners. In June 2004, at the same time as the European elections, Londoners will vote for a mayor and an assembly that influences the lives of those who live, travel and work in London. But winning battles won’t win the war. Engaging Londoners, particularly the 70 percent who did not vote in 2000, will be the challenge and will decide the outcome.
London Labour has made the first steps towards a manifesto. Labour’s Plans, Londoners’ Priorities is the title of the consultation document going out to members, unions, businesses, voluntary sector organisations and Londoners, with comments due in by the end of January.
Bold and proud, it raises the stakes against the Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens. Its key themes are making London safer, getting London moving and cleaner neighbourhoods. It represents a real chance to engage with Londoners in a way that will cement Labour in peoples’ minds as the only party that can bring about the improvements that Londoners need.
It is a clear response to what Londoners want. The annual London survey, conducted by MORI, gives a snapshot of life in the capital. Conducted between October and December, the 2002 survey found that Londoners considered traffic congestion to be the worst thing about living in London. Fifty-five percent of Londoners said that reducing traffic congestion was the most important transport priority, the next priority being more reliable buses and tubes. Crime rates and safety also ranked highly.
Only Labour is genuinely committed to the investment, planning and belief in empowered communities that are needed to deal with London’s problems. The Tories, Liberal Democrats and Greens could not be more out of touch. Steven Norris, the Tories’ mayoral candidate, is still committed to abandoning the congestion charge. The Liberal Democrats this year voted against the anti-social behaviour bill in parliament, whilst the Greens have opposed regeneration in east and south-east London.
Conveying the impact of Labour and Labour policies and strategy is not easy. Even in the last month, the mayor and assembly have been making announcements that almost seem to go unnoticed. In November, a record investment in local transport improvements in the coming year was announced, with a £147m package of funding for London’s boroughs over 2004 and 2005. This will pay for a range of initiatives in every London borough including road maintenance, road safety schemes, safer routes to school and other schemes supporting walking, cycling and improvements to local town centres.
The assembly health committee has published its report on tuberculosis in London. The report shows that tuberculosis is making a worrying comeback in London, putting pressures on health services in the capital. Research commissioned by the London assembly’s environment committee has found that the capital standards campaign, which aims to improve the cleanliness and general appearance of London streets, has been successful in improving quality of life for Londoners.
From January, we will have six more months to be working hard on the doorstep, in our communities, to argue the case for Labour and inspire the passion for politics we know still exists. If my first six months as a candidate is anything to go by, people still value the opportunity to share their views. Residents want to talk about local issues and to be involved in decisions being made by their elected officials.
However, spending time convincing people of our strengths over opposition parties is only part of our job. Parties have the opportunity to be agencies of social change, not just holders of offices of power. It’s time to replace apathy and cynicism with aspiration and conviction.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.