Former London Mayor Ken Livingstone has a compelling column in The Guardian today providing a bit of an overview of the election results, the state of play in London and what it all means for the Labour Party in the UK. Livingstone does of course put something of a positive spin on the results – no mean feat given how fresh the wounds are – but what is perhaps more interesting is his take on what governments in the modern era need to do. Shunting the right/left paradigm to the side for just a moment, it’s worth having a bit of a think about these three objectives:
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.
So in essence, Livingstone is suggesting that wealth, a fair wealth distribution and sustainability are the three objectives that government should strive for. Personally I think that’s a fairly neat conceptualisation of what good government should deliver in the modern era. If a society is prosperous, the prosperity is shared in an equitable manner and it is achieving its prosperity through a sustainable path, then it is probably going to be considered a successful society.
It is of course worth considering these three goals that Livingstone has highlighted in the context of the mayoral election results. With respect to prosperity – there is little doubting that London is one of the most prosperous cities in the world, and has been for what we would consider to be a considerable number of years. It’s difficult to gauge the extent to which Livingstone’s mayoralty on the city’s prosperity, but I would suggest that he has imparted a degree of increased prosperity to the city during his time in the top job. With respect to wealth distribution, the rhetoric has always been there with Ken, but I am not sure that he has achieved the outcomes that he would have liked. As he states himself in his column:
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.
On sustainability, lastly, Livingstone arguably has a record to be proud of. The introduction of the groundbreaking congestion charge has won worldwide plaudits and made London something of a model city when it comes to environmental considerations.
Ironically of course, despite doing quite well when marked against his own criteria, Livingstone did not manage to win the election. And why? Reading through some of the comments made on his column might give you some idea there. Sadly for the former mayor, I think the impact of the scandals that beset his mayoralty (e.g. the Lee Jasper affair) suggest that transparency or “good governance” is the crucial fourth element omitted from his wish list of societal goals. Boris Johnson of course proved quite the populist candidate, but one would have to think the result could have been different if Livingstone’s mayoralty was not dragged into the gutter in the months leading up to the election.