No more big characters or Tory clowns like Boris Johnson. London desperately needs a boring mayor

Londoners are used to voting in mayors who make great telly but fail to get things done. It's time we accepted that we need someone who's dull and diplomatic

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The Independent Online

Right now, political parties are sorting through candidates to choose who's going onto the ballot for next year's London mayoral election. I have just one recommendation: select a compromiser, a bureaucrat. Pick someone dull.

London's had 15, soon to be 16, years of characterful politicians at its helm. Ken and Boris might make great telly (to the extent you know who I'm talking about even without their surnames) but they've been divisive. We can absorb splits when the city's doing well, and when forcing through something like the congestion charge won't rip it apart. It's less useful when there are 48,000 households in temporary accommodation in the capital but we've only built a net increase of 13,500 lower cost homes since 2008.

Whoever wins in 2016, they'll need to work with a Conservative government for the duration of their term. You'd think a Tory mayor would be a good call in this situation, but Boris Johnson hasn't been able to stop major funding cuts to the Metropolitan police and Transport for London, or secure money to build enough affordable homes. There have also clearly been times when communication between City Hall and the Treasury has been shaky.

The next mayor will need to lobby for Crossrail 2 and house-building cash, as well as greater fiscal devolution. If that person is from the Labour party, it would be helpful if he or she hasn't spent the previous year colourfully abusing the government in as many forms of media as possible.

This cuts the other way on the London Assembly, the body that holds the mayor to account. The Assembly can reject the mayor's budget – which includes funding for police, fire and transport – with a two-thirds majority vote. Right now, the parties of the left are one seat short of that majority. As London's political mood seems to drift leftwards, it's not beyond the realms of possibility that from next year, a coalition of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and Greens could wield the power to throw out much of a Conservative mayor's plans. It would help everyone to play nice.

 

Needless to say, a mayor that can work with all Assembly Members would also benefit Londoners. The Lib Dems have been campaigning for a part-time travelcard for years, but it was only when the Conservative group adopted the issue that Boris listened. When good ideas get ignored, partisanship has gone too far.

All of this is not to say that I want a shy and retiring mayor. Part of the job – in absence of real power in many areas – is to shout loud enough to bring about change. A great book recently been published by David Robinson and Will Horwitz, which discusses ways to make London a better city, makes the compelling argument that the city needs a mayor who stands up for and pioneers social change. It's big ideas, not big names, they say, that “light the slow fuse of the possible”.

And so, please: no more 'backies', or getting stuck on zip wires, or falling into rivers. Even a newt-fancier may be too exotic. Let's have a serious mayor who can roll their sleeves up and get things done, working with whomever they need to in the process. Someone who can calm a bag of fighting cats instead of throwing in a Doberman for the yucks. Someone who cares more about issues than their own media profile. Choose wisely; choose boring.

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