Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London

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This archived article was published 30 June 2004
London Mayor faces tougher
scrutiny in his second term
By Andrew Stevens

30 June 2004: The second set of elections to the Greater London Authority (GLA) in June 2004, which saw Mayor Ken Livingstone re-elected for a second term, places it on unknown political territory within Britain’s emerging multi-arena democracy. Unlike the Scottish and Welsh devolved bodies that exist in that arena, the newly elected GLA is a useful pointer to both national political prospects and the Government’s future policies on urban autonomy.

Labour entered the 2004 London elections holding the Mayoralty and joint first place in the London Assembly. However, while Labour had nationally retained its majority in Parliament, some London seats had been lost at the 2001 General Election to other parties and the 2002 local elections saw few electoral successes for the party in the capital either, with some high profile London Boroughs slipping out of its control. 

Opinion polls in the preceding months suggested that Mr Livingstone, a largely popular figure as a high profile Mayor who Londoners warmed to, was on course for re-election, but his readmission to the Labour Party prior to the campaign was not so attractive to voters and would incur some cost to him at the ballot box. However, second-time Tory challenger to the Mayoralty, Steve Norris, damaged his own chances of unseating the incumbent Mayor by accepting the chairmanship of the controversial engineering firm Jarvis Plc, one of the companies responsible for modernising the London Underground rail network under the Government’s Public Private Partnership.

The advantages of incumbency proved sufficient for Mr Livingstone to see off his Tory opponent, in spite of being on the Labour ticket. The national political mood, which saw the Labour Party lose both European and council seats on the same day, had limited effects in London, partly because of the distance between the views of the Mayor and Prime Minister, not least on the question of Iraq. However, the main issues which determined the outcome of the campaign were crime and transport – both of whom featured most prominently among Londoners’ concerns in any polling done in the capital and both of which are the actual responsibility of the Mayor through the Metropolitan Police and Transport for London.

It is in the elections for the London Assembly, the body enshrined in the GLA legislation to act as both a scrutineer of the Mayor’s policies and as a pool of favourable nominees for political appointments to the plethora of functional bodies under the Mayor’s control, which has seen some of the most interesting and mould-breaking developments. 

While designing the GLA, the Government ensured by dint of a proportional electoral system that no one party could dominate the Assembly. The Government also capped the membership of the Assembly at 25, somewhat smaller than previous representative bodies for Greater London, as it believed the public would not support a higher number of salaried members.

The 2004 elections almost saw a repeat of the performance four years previously where Labour and Conservative were equally tied, the Liberal Democrats received seats proportionate to their vote share and smaller parties such as the Greens were able to break out of the ghetto of fringe politics and into the representative arena. On this occasion, the Conservatives overtook Labour by two seats to become the largest party in the Assembly but without a majority. The Greens lost a seat, thanks to the rise of the UK Independence Party (Ukip), who polled badly in 2000 but received a substantial boost in the 2004 London elections due to the publicity afforded to the party in the European elections. The Liberal Democrats also gained one seat in 2004.

Labour may yet rue the day it decided to hold all of the 2004 elections on one date in order to boost turnout as Ukip now have two seats on the London Assembly and all that brings with it – legitimacy, mandate, staff, resources and votes. The rightist party is profoundly hostile not only to the policies of the Mayor (a left-wing Euro enthusiast) but to the very existence of the GLA itself, which it views as regionalist institution created to bring about a ‘European Union of the regions’. With only two members, the party has already made its presence felt to that end.

Labour suffered a high profile loss in the elections in the form of (Lord) Toby Harris, the leader of Labour in the Assembly for the last four years and also Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority for that period, who lost his constituency seat of Brent and Harrow. However, losses were not limited to Labour as the Tories’ group leader Eric Ollerenshaw, the often rambunctious arch-critic of the Mayor’s policies in the chamber at City Hall, lost his list seat due to the formula which calculates party representation on the Assembly.

The ensuing horse-trading at City Hall has resulted with Labour being confined to opposition on the Assembly, with no committee chairships to its name. Any suggestion of the Green Party cooperating with Labour was immediately scotched by the Greens’ leader Darren Johnson, who refused to ‘write any blank cheques for the Mayor’ and wished to exact massive changes in policy. Some observers had assumed that Labour might attempt a ‘Red-Green’ coalition but this did not transpire. Tony Banks MP had suggested such a move while seeking the party’s support for Mayor back in 2002, citing the German ruling coalition as an example. However, the UK Green Party does not share the same outlook as the ‘Realo’ faction of Joska Fischer’s German Greens.  Rather than renew the centre-left pact between them and Labour of 2000, the Liberal Democrats have brokered an agreement with the Tories to share the chairs of the committees that scrutinise the Mayor. 

Some might argue that it is preferable that scrutiny is led by those who do not share the Mayor’s party line and can scrutinise him free of any loyalty conflict, while others may see this situation as merely a recipe for political point-scoring. The arrangement has seen the Assembly elect the often stentorian leader of the Conservative group, Brian Coleman, as its Chair, who will certainly prove to be a counter-weight to the Mayor’s own presence. The London Governance Review, the Assembly’s inquiry into the powers of the GLA and the role and size of the London Boroughs beneath it, has already been threatened with discontinuation by the Tories, who view the body as a vehicle for the Mayor and his Labour allies to propose a reduction in the number of London Boroughs from 32 to just five.

The Mayor’s stated desire to see his controversial Congestion Charging policy extended across West London will also face stiffer opposition under the new Assembly under these circumstances. It is, of course, early days in the Mayoral term. Mr Livingstone has remained ambiguous about his political future, casting doubt on reports that he intends this term to be his last in having said that he intends the mayoralty to be his last political job. Almost 60 years old and displaying an open desire for publicity and power, no one can imagine for one second that he intends to withdraw from the political stage unless the electorate say otherwise in four years time.

London City Hall on the South Bank of the river Thames

Results of the 2004 London mayoral election
Ken Livingstone (Labour): 36.7%
Steve Norris (Conservative): 29.0%
Simon Hughes (Liberal Democrats): 15.2%
Frank Maloney (UK Independence Party): 6.2%
Lindsey German (Respect): 3.6%
Julian Leppert (British National Party): 3.1%
Darren Johnson (Green Party): 3.1%
Others: 3.1%

Distribution of seats in the new London Assembly
Conservative: 9 seats (no change)
Labour: 7 seats (-2)
Liberal Democrats: 5 seats (+1)
Greens: 2 seats (-1)
UK Independence Party: 2 seats (+2)

Total share of the vote in the 2004 local elections in England and Wales
Conservative: 38%
Liberal Democrats: 29%
Labour: 26%
Others: 7%