Ken has written an article for the Guardian analysing the results of the elections. Read the article below…
Yes, I lost. But still Labour must learn from London
Forget left or right turns. The party needs to put itself at the forefront of a progressive alliance that can inspire the electorate
By Ken Livingstone
As I can testify, May 1 was a bad day for Labour. But in London the party did better than nationally, and I believe there are some general conclusions to be drawn as we prepare for a general election.
Nationally Labour’s vote fell by 2% compared to 2004, but in London the percentage of first preference votes I received in the mayoral election went up very fractionally. The increase in the absolute number of votes was striking – up by 220,000, or 30%. There was no Labour “stay at home” factor in London. Four years ago I polled 10.8% ahead of Labour nationally – a week ago this increased to 13%. I received slightly more second preference votes than Boris Johnson. On the London assembly Labour made one net gain.
We lost in London. But in the context of very bad national results, Labour’s results in London were the best for any major area of the country. What lessons can be drawn nationally, and what to do next in London?
Following May 1 some people are posing the choice as between moving “to the left” or “to the right”. This is not the right question. Labour must place itself at the centre of a progressive alliance that can solve the problems facing the country.
What are the key elements of this? There are three tasks for a government and a mayor – to ensure the country and London are an economic success; to ensure everyone shares in that success; and to ensure that success is sustainable in the long run through improving the environment.
Labour’s campaign in London gained major support from business. The Financial Times concluded that the majority of big business in London supported my re-election. There is no way to check that, but I know from meetings that very large sections of big business supported my campaign.
This is because they understand the need for large strategic investment, which only the state can provide. In London much is physical infrastructure. Tube modernisation, Crossrail and the Olympic games each cost £1bn a year. But the same principle applies elsewhere.
Another part is “soft” investment – ranging from skills through to promotion in key new markets such as China and India. Labour should say to business, as we did in London, that the private sector and the market will not automatically provide the scale of investment required – the Thatcher experiment in London brought the city’s infrastructure to its knees.
The need to ensure that everyone shares in success is an immediately comprehensible issue for the electorate, and one where the difference with the Tories is stark. There is not the slightest evidence that “trickle down” – the automatic operation of the market – is a sufficient mechanism to ensure everyone shares in success or to deliver decent services. In London the shattering contrast, within a mile’s distance, of the wealth of the City of London and the poverty of Tower Hamlets shows this brutally. But even relatively prosperous middle-class areas of the capital require decent public services to provide transport, policing and environmental protection.
In London, without national powers of taxation, we intervened to ensure that all shared in the city’s success: by, for instance, insisting that the Olympics, with all its infrastructural development, be located in the poorest boroughs of east London; by massively improving bus services – the transport most used by poorer Londoners – and introducing free travel for under-18s on the buses; by campaigning for the London living wage; and by deciding that 50% of all new housing in the capital must be affordable housing. These policies were right and were the underlying cause of that huge increase in turnout for Labour on May 1 in London. In the poorest part of east London there was actually a swing to Labour.
On the environment, London positioned itself on the cutting edge of the fight against climate change. London chaired the C40 group of the largest international cities on climate change, and its climate change action plan is recognised as one of the most advanced of any city in the world. Numerous major environmental writers in Britain preferred my re-election on May 1. The importance of the environment and climate change is only going to increase; whatever the short-term mood due to economic shifts, Labour must command the high ground on climate change.
London, under a Labour mayoralty and a Labour government, became recognised as the most successful capital city in the world. We introduced new social programmes, helped sustain a cultural life that was the most dynamic in the world, cut racist attacks by more than half in eight years, and led the way on climate change. The new London administration represents decline – economic, social, cultural, and environmental. In 2012 Labour must return at the head of a progressive administration and restore London as the number one capital city in the world.
One important development at this election was a formal agreement with the Green party calling for second preference mayoral votes for each other. This benefited the Greens – who added 40,000 votes and maintained their share of the vote and existing number of London assembly seats – but also aided the high turnout and Labour. Had I been re-elected I would have given Green nominees a central role in my administration.
In contrast, Lib Dem failure in London was massive. They chose to stay outside the progressive alliance of Labour and the Greens. As a result they failed even to reach double-figure support in the mayoral election, and their London assembly seats fell from five to three. Hopefully this suicidal orientation will be reversed in the next four years.
Amid the worst electoral defeat for 40 years, even Labour’s best electoral performance in the country could not stop London entering into a period of Tory decline. But as that decline proceeds, a new progressive alliance will be forged, which will go on to regain its position and restore London as the greatest capital city in the world. I’ll have plenty of time to do some very welcome gardening – and to participate in that resurgence.