Opinion: There Is No Conservative Future in London

Politics and administration is a rather difficult game in major cities. Everything is much bigger- the budget, the numbers, but crucially, the problems faced on a daily basis by the millions and millions of people who you are ultimately responsible for. This means the need for coherent, meaningful policies – all directed towards a coherent, meaningful objective. When it comes to London this is vital if not essential, with the problems of an expanding population combined with the ever-chafing issues of housing, transport, planning, safety and the environment.

It has nearly been a year since we saw a certain Boris Johnson come to the helm with a slate of rather cheery-eyed Conservative members of the London Assembly, promising, in an almost messianic way, a brighter, better future for London, based on coherent policies (which he probably didn’t write) and proper leadership (which, according to Conservative Central Office, would come from unelected advisors).

So far, we have been treated to a year of farce, incompetence, dithering and sleaze, backed up with the right amount of cynical spin, and with minimal change. London has become a rudderless ship under Conservative rule; and we should not expect things to get any easier with the onset of economic hardship.

Boris Johnson’s slate of policies is now in shambles. He has failed to deliver on planning, engaging in contradictory actions on the issue of skyscrapers, much to the dismay of his Outer London base. He has failed to deliver on transport, cancelling for good any real investment in London’s infrastructure for the next 15 years save for marginal improvements on the London Overground and Crossrail – a project by the City and for the City that even they will no longer be able to pay for.

While it is not entirely under his remit, he has also decisively failed on the issue of ensuring London’s continued economic prosperity by doing precious little when it comes to regeneration. He refuses to put forward London’s case to central government, instead opting to dither before scoring petty political points when central government does nothing – all at the expense of ordinary Londoners and to his political gain.

The fact of the matter remains: there is no Conservative policy for London, there is no Conservative vision for London and there is no Conservative future for London.

Where there was once coherence, there is now contradiction. While Conservative-run local authorities from Westminster to Barnet pledge to lower living costs by bringing down or freezing the unjust Council Tax, the Conservative-run Greater London Authority does the opposite by slashing-and-burning investment funding while simultaneously raising transport costs.

The Mayoralty is now spinning around in a policy-free vacuum. Like the dying Labour administration in Westminster, they are not governing but are merely maintaining. What we are witnessing is the total collapse of policy in little over eleven months in office, an unprecedented failure in leadership, and the rise of obstruction, bluffing and uncertainty.

The Conservative Party in London seem to think they can abuse and misuse with impunity on the basis of their support from the bigoted cabal of men and women who run the Evening Standard. They claim they are going from ‘strength to strength’ – when in fact they seem to be going from hushed-up scandal to scandal – from Brian Coleman and his obsession with milking the taxpayer dry by way of Hackney Carriage to … Brian Coleman and the exploding boiler … and onwards to the Victoria Borwick Mailgate saga – the Tories seem to get away with actions that merit the full flog-and-shame routine that our media are well versed in dishing out.

Not to mention the awful record of London Conservative Members of Parliament, who seem more than happy to claim away at the second home allowance despite the existence of some of the best transport links in the country – which, by the way, thanks to Conservative leadership in City Hall and Labour leadership in the Department for Transport, now costs more than ever before.

The fact of the matter remains: Conservative sleaze lives on in London. The last Mayoral election was not fought on serious policy; it was fought as a two-horse race, in which the least dirty side won. Boris Johnson now draws all his political capital on three dismal points: articulated buses, hatred for Ken Livingstone and his comical nature. This is not how Europe’s leading city should and ought to be run. City Hall needs to understand that there is more to governing than cuts, hikes, withdrawals and cancellations. If the Conservatives do not know what to do with London, it goes without saying that they won’t know what to do with the rest of the country if they win the next General Election.

Unlike the Conservatives and Labour in London, the Liberal Democrats do have a vision for the London of the future.

The Liberal Democrats will solve the chronic housing problem plaguing the capital by converting unoccupied housing into social housing, bringing millions of hardworking Londoners and their families closer to the dream of home ownership, instead of leaving this problem idle as the current Conservative administration has recklessly done.

We will bring about a revolution in public transport, increasing investment and keeping fares low in order to spur on economic growth and create jobs in London while making it easier for Londoners, especially those who live in public transport ‘black spots’ in south- and outer- London to access work, leisure and services in inner- and central London.

We will tackle crime with a systematic, liberal and most importantly effective approach, retaining small police stations while encouraging the growth of community policing in the boroughs that is both more effective and accountable to local communities and people.

We will clean up London’s air by imposing tougher rules on lorries and trucks and cut congestion effectively for the benefit of pedestrians. We will ensure local communities, not just big businesses and developers, get a say when it comes to major regeneration, and we will make sure regeneration projects in London are reflective of this city’s diverse needs. The Liberal Democrats will fight for London’s case, not roll over meekly in the face of central government as Boris has done countless times.

Our ideas and policies make sense; and unlike Conservative and Labour promises of inaction, they will make London a safer, greener and more pleasant city to live in for everyone.

It has been an underwhelming first year for the rudderless, seedy and idle Conservative administration in City Hall. What we need in London is leadership that is clean, based on sound policy and with a clear vision for the future of London.

London does not need incoherent babbling from City Hall, fat-cat members of the London Assembly selfishly defending their core suburban interests at the expense of the inner city or constant, endless cuts in investment and services.

We need a vision for London that deals with the key difficulties of running the world’s leading metropolis, instead of leaders who bury our difficulties and challenges under a heap of spin, misconstruction and confusion.

The Liberal Democrats have been the only party to put forward coherent and practical ideas to bring about the London we all strive for; one that is green, prosperous, fair and efficient. The Conservatives have so far failed decisively in doing this- and this is exactly why there is no Conservative future in London. They are out of depth, out of ideas and out of energy.

* Edwin Loo is the Campaigns & Communications Director for London Liberal Youth, and a Politics and History undergraduate at the London School of Economics & Political Science.

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9 Comments

  • it read a little too much like propaganda to me. like a party political broadcast, but to the largely converted…

  • This is utterly absurd and just goes to show how little experience Liberal Democrats have in running things.

    Aside from the unpleasant vitriol which I am sure will turn-off anyone but the most hard core anti-Tory you’re assertions do not make sense.

    You criticise City Hall for not bringing down its tax burden and then call for increased investment and lower fares for public transport. What do you think Boris has been aiming to do? He inherited an organisation (TfL) that had many unfunded commitments (the ones you point out have been cancelled in “slash and burn”) that were totally unaffordable, but announced by Ken Livingstone in an attempt to get more votes.

    As the economy has nose-dived so have passenger numbers and income from fares. A large part of the TfL cost-base are fixed costs (the Tube for example) and so trying to go back to the days of Ken where you want fares to go down, income from users to go down, and investment to go up would only serve to bankrupt the GLA.

    I would have expected more for a “Campaigns and Communications Director”. You fail to detail what your “systematic” vision is. You want to cut congestion, but how? So do the Tories and Labour, but even with a cadre of Transport Engineers they’ve not done so well with that target.

    You want to impose “tougher rules on lorries and trucks” – but how? The LEZ is on the back-burner during the economic crisis, but it hasn’t been cancelled. Are you proposing a Super-LEZ?

    You will ensure that local communities get a say in major regeneration? So how are you going to improve the current process that aims to make sure this is the case already?

    You will fight against central government more effectively than Boris -but how?

    What is this “sound policy” and “clear vision” other than ill thought out soundbites?

  • we also need to make this far less technocratic. At a time when people hate politicians this seems like playground squabbling. Time to show how the future can be different from the path…

  • path=past!

  • I don’t know who Edwin Loo is, but I do know that the Johnson administration is nothing like the one he makes out.

    Most Londoners are looking quite positively at the council tax freeze he has instigated and turning their thoughts at the profligate Boroughs who are not doing the same (mainly – but not exclusively – the Lib Dem controlled ones).

    An article long on rhetorcic and short on analysis…

  • Cllr Tom Papworth 12th Apr '09 - 8:59am

    Dan,

    I’m glad you said “mainly – but not exclusively…”

    The Tories rejected our budget ammendments in Bromley that would have frozen the Council Tax, instead pushing through an above inflation rise.

    Meanwhile, over the border in NOC Lewisham, only support from the three Tories enabled Labour to push through their inflation-busting tax rise in the face of more Lib Dem opposition.

    Tax-and-spend Tories appear to be the norm in the South East.

  • Don’t question it. The only response to this is – OK have it your way, since you insist so long and so loud and are so confident about it. I await with anticipation the inevitable Boris defeat in 2012, swept into oblivion by the Lib Dem juggernaut.

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