Sunday, 30 March 2008

Ken vs Boris on the Issues (5): Development

In the fifth and final instalment of this series, I take a look at how the candidates for Mayor of London hope to move London forward.

Development is again something of a catch-all description of quite a wide-range of issues, covering the candidates' visions for London's economy, urban regeneration, and sport and culture. There is some inevitable overlap with topics I have already covered, particularly transport* and housing, and in the interest of keeping this manageable I will not be returning to those areas.

Probably the most obviously critical issue in this area, that I have not discussed yet, is one of the unique aspects of this Mayoral race - The 2005 awarding to London of the 2012 Olympics. At the moment we are still awaiting the commencement of the 2008 Games and 2012 seems a long way off indeed. But whoever is elected Mayor will almost certainly hold the position until the Olympic year. How do the candidates envision the Games and their effects on the city?

Boris Johnson lists the Olympic legacy as one of his (currently) 8 key policy areas, however he has not put out a full manifesto. Ken lists the awarding to London of the Olympics as part of his record of success in the area of Culture & Sport, and highlights the importance to the "most deprived part of the city", in East London, of the development that comes with the holding of the Games there. Again, Ken has not yet released full manifestos covering the corresponding areas of Economy and Sport & Culture, making a detailed comparison of the approaches of the two candidates difficult.

It would be unfair not to acknowledge the role of Ken Livingstone in winning London the Games in the first place, overturning the betting favourite Paris. This factor puts Boris in a difficult position, since it means that criticism of Ken on the Olympics can easily seem vulgar. Some justified opposition has been made to the budgeting of the bid, but I think most accept that somewhat optimistic claims in this area are required to win the awarding in the first place. It is perhaps telling that Boris has largely avoided criticism of Ken in this area, and instead focuses in his policy statements on the legacy of the Games, something he will have considerable influence upon if elected. Ken mentions regeneration of the Thames Gateway and in particular the run-down Lower Lea Valley area, whereas Boris provides no specific plans for regeneration as part of his policy statement associated with the Olympics, rather a general reference to regenerat[ing] huge parts of London. Interestingly, no mention is made by Boris in connection with the Olympics of his proposed building of a new airport to replace Heathrow in the Thames Gateway area.

Assessment of the relative merits of the candidates on the wider issue of London's economic development is made rather difficult by Boris's lack of public policy covering the area. Even on issues on which one might expect a Tory mayor to make positive promises, such as improving the circumstances in which small businesses in the capital operate, nothing significant (aside from the congestion charge reforms already covered under Transport) is forthcoming. In fact it is Ken who lists growth of sales in London's shops, as well as high economic growth in general, as part of his record of economic success. Additionally, Ken has actually come in for criticism from sections of the Left for his "admiration of the City" and Nigel Bourne, a CBI director described Ken as a "very pro-business mayor".

Similarly, aside from the Olympics, little policy information about the support and development of leisure, arts and culture in the city is forthcoming from the Conservative's campaign. This in particular is an area over which the Mayor has considerable influence, so the lack of policy from Boris is disappointing only just over a month away from the election. Ken has come in for criticism, for instance for instituting an event in Hyde Park felt by some to be an attempt to 'take control' of the Notting Hill Carnival. However, Boris has not capitalised on this controversy or provided any competing claims as to his support or otherwise of this or other festivals (such as the Rise, Mela and Liberty festivals), or indeed arts & culture in general.

Overview: With the major caveat that neither candidate has put out anything close to detailed policy statements and/or manifestos on the areas covered by this post, on what is currently available it is Ken who appears by some way both clearer and stronger on what he hopes to achieve in the area of London's development.
Verdict: Ken appears the better candidate here.

* Boris shares Ken's support for several major transport development schemes, including Crossrail and the Oxford Street tram.

No comments: