Who Rules London?: Simon Hughes wants the capital to tackle a range of problems urgently, from crime to local services, education and the elderly. The Liberal Democrat spokesman on London explains his agenda to Colin Brown

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The Lord Mayor of London should be an elected politician with real powers, like the Mayor of New York or Washington, according to Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat spokesman.

Mr Hughes, the MP for Southwark and Bermondsey, supported the proposal for an elected mayor, in an interview for Independent London although it is not yet Liberal Democrat policy.

His agenda for London includes: a London-wide authority; an elected mayor; free-standing outer-London boroughs; annual consultation of public opinion in the capital on public spending preferences; and new parish councils.

The Liberal Democrats are committed to recreating an authority with powers on health, transport, economic regeneration, further education, the arts, and tourism.

'To give focus to that you can have an indirectly elected mayor from a London-wide authority or you can have the Cabinet of the London-wide authority directly elected, and they would be the key people, including the Lord Mayor,' he said. 'It is an idea few of us have, but it is not party policy yet. I personally support that idea. I think the American experience and the French experience shows that in an age of personality politics, if you get a contest for what style in which the city is run, it gives colour, it gives personality.

Mr Hughes said London needs, above all, 'a sense of common identity'. He wants London brought into the local government review, and the chance for outer-London boroughs, such as Croydon and Kingston, to be free-standing.

'It means the idea of having an elected mayor for the whole of London to give it a sense of participatory democracy,' he added. 'It needs people's views to be listened to more: if 83 per cent of the people want more spent on the health service than public transport, there should be a way of bringing that about.

'It means . . . people going back to a local affinity. We have lost the regional link and we have lost the local link . . . If the election results in June confirm that London is now a place where the Tories are less popular than the rest of the country, they may realise that the no-go areas for their policy will have to be changed. If they are wise they will change them before the next general election.'

Is London going to be a better or a worse place to live in? 'Many Londoners still think about moving out when they are thinking about settling down and having children. I think the test of whether London is working as a city is whether Londoners want to stay . . . London is getting worse because they are not staying . . .

'It's going to get worse. We don't have enough jobs; we have pockets of urban deprivation which are making it like New York or Washington.' Mr Hughes said there are still no-go areas. 'People are fighting back for the first time on crime, the design of estates. There are two things which would make people stay: schools and services for the elderly.'

(Photograph omitted)

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