Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Planning for the return of Mayor Ken

The bookies have Boris Johnson as favourite to win next May's election for London Mayor, but his predecessor Ken Livingstone is not so far behind, and a lot could change between now and then (especially if Ken manages to stop comparing Boris with Hitler). 

Assuming the coalition government remains in power, there is the prospect, by this time next year, of a Labour Mayor in conflict both with Tory councils at a local level and with a Tory minister at the Communities department at the national level.  The Mayor has a power - used at least once by Boris Johnson - to 'call in' big planning applications for his own decision where he doesn't like the local authority's view; and the Communities Secretary has a similar power at the national level.  The power resides in the Mayor personally, not the GLA.

Livingstone has never been averse to provocative political point-scoring. He proved himself surprisingly pro-development last time around, and it is not hard to imagine him calling in a big scheme which he supported but a local authority didn't, on the basis that it is of London-wide importance (for example in respect of its ability to contribute to Crossrail funding).  The Government would then have to decide whether to override him in turn.  We could then look forward to some fancy spinning on who is the 'localest' of them all, with Ken telling the Government to back off, and the Government claiming that it is only using its national-level powers to support the local council....

Mrs Thatcher's Government abolished the Greater London Council, under its then leader Ken Livingstone, in 1986, in a controversial act of political spite which left London rudderless for over a decade.  The present Government supports the idea of elected mayors, but it may come to find that it likes some mayors more than others - even those that are in the same party are not proving entirely problem free.

Could history repeat itself if Ken returns?

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