Being a fully paid-up resident of Gloucestershire, you might be surprised at how interested I am in the London Mayoral election. You shouldn’t be. OK, I lived in the smoke for ten frenetic years and still fondly remember an evening spent at a book launch with a previous incumbent. But there is more to it than that. In fact, I think we should all keep a watching brief on the goings on in London’s city hall.
For a start, the announcement that Zac Goldsmith is up against Sadiq Khan, makes this an intriguing battle. The son of a bus driver is pitted against an Etonian son of a tycoon; the new model Corbynista against a campaigning environmentalist. Alongside them we see the other English Westminster parties as well as the return of George Galloway and as yet unconfirmed reports of Sandi Toksvig entering the fray.
For those interested in infrastructure one of the biggest things we know about Zac Goldsmith is that he opposes Heathrow. Although not the final arbiter, that in itself shows why the London mayor matters to the regions. Khan also supports this position as do many of the other candidates. There is a real chance for a Government vs. Mayor bust up whoever wins.
London sometimes appears to operate in a different political climate to the rest of the country. Labour polled strongly here in the 2015 General Election while it withered in other areas. Look at an electoral map and you see the red of London set in the blue sea of the Home Counties.
But, it goes beyond that. Individuals can sometimes be more important than party machines. Since the position of Mayor of London was created in 2000, elections have been closely fought and unpredictable. Ken Livingstone’s victory as an independent in 2000 followed his resignation from the Labour Party having failed to get its nomination. His failed bid against Boris Johnson in 2012 reinforced this dynamic – sometimes the mayoral election is a battle of personalities.
What though for the residents of the shires?
1. We get to see a battle of ideas around housing and affordable housing in which the consensus is likely to be in favour of further development – how often do we see that?
2. The election will be a Petri dish for debating how far the Government should involve itself in the rental market.
3. We will see direct democracy resulting in one of the most powerful elected figures in the country – especially given the propensity for London to suck in investment and people.
4. It’s a blueprint for other cities – Manchester is due to get its directly elected mayor in 2017.
5. Rightly or wrongly the mayor can help bring in major sporting events that spread out from the capital such as the Olympics or fail to bring them like the start of the Tour de France.
It is hard to see London’s role as the focus for investment ending any time soon. Walk down the streets of central London and the amount of development is staggering. How can rural communities compete with a neighbour that walks the international stage and gets a seat at the top table? These are some of the reasons why it matters who is elected Mayor in 2016.
In the 15 years since the role of mayor was created – and certainly over the past decade - we all benefit from and are all at the mercy of their bread and circuses.
Tim Read is a director at Camargue