As the mayor of London, I would never back political violence

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The Independent Online

One of the more bizarre attacks on my campaign for mayor in recent weeks has been a claim in one of the papers that I had become "invisible".

One of the more bizarre attacks on my campaign for mayor in recent weeks has been a claim in one of the papers that I had become "invisible".

As there have been weeks of public debates, numerous television interviews, and that this week's diary includes the BBC mayoral debate, the Carlton TV debate, the Operation Black Vote public debate and the London Weekend Television hustings, a bigger potential danger might be voter fatigue. Furthermore, the stories fitted rather awkwardly with Tony Blair's accusation on the same day that my high public profile made me some kind of "showbiz" candidate. "Invisible" is not, I think, the word that would readily come to mind for the average elector.

A genuine problem is, however, that some of the tabloids, and one of the broadsheets, have made not the slightest attempt at objective reporting, and will not cover stories or parts of the campaign that do not fit the way they wish to misrepresent the mayoral poll.

There is no point in trying to change it - they have doubtless been given their instructions by editors. It simply means that I give priority to the electronic media, where the electors can judge for themselves, and those papers that, no matter what they write on their editorial pages (which is their right), accurately report the campaign.

A good example is the suggestion repeated in a number of tabloids that I support the various anti-capitalism "stop the city" protests or riots planned for 1 May. On 11 April I released a statement making it clear that I opposed these and for that reason urged people not to go on the 1 May actions, as these were planned by the groups previously involved in last year's violent "stop the city" protests. Newspapers did not report this statement, and several continue to claim the contrary.

I want to explain the issue clearly. Upholding the right of peaceful protest is a key part of any democracy. The mayor of London must do so with all the powers at the mayor's disposal. It is also undoubtedly deeply frustrating for peaceful organisers when sometimes the depth of public feeling is shown by tens of thousands protesting on an issue and it receives no coverage because the views expressed do not coincide with those of tabloid newspaper owners.

One of the many jobs of the mayor, on occasion, may be to make sure that legitimate protests supported by Londoners are heard. This is vital, as the mayor must represent all of London. Any candidate who restricts themselves to representing the interests of just one section of the capital will struggle to rise above 15-20 per cent of the vote.

A successful mayor will have to do much more than that. They will have to knit together a majority coalition, which is impossible without embracing the full breadth of the capital's diversity across different communities, different walks of life, business, trade unions, arts, the environmentally concerned, religions and generations, to name just a few. The good of the community as a whole inevitably takes precedence over the interest of particular parts of the city.

This inevitably means that the mayor will not always be able to satisfy every sectional interest and will sometimes say things that annoy individual parts of London. For example, London's mayor must develop a close and constructive relationship with business to promote inward investment and broadly based prosperity. But, on an issue like the privatisation of the tube, the majority concern for a safe and reliable public service must take precedence over the opinion of sections of business that probably support privatisation.

Similarly, more than a quarter of Londoners are members of ethnic minorities. But this is not reflected in staffing in both the public and private sectors. A mayor for all of London must help correct that imbalance, even if that upsets some of the tabloids who like to paint the pursuit of equality in treatment as an exercise in "political correctness".

Again, the mayor must work with the central government. But when government policy conflicts with the interests of London - as is the case with planned cuts in grants to London boroughs - then the mayor must fight for London. In such a complex and diverse city some parts of the mayor's constituency will quite rightly be concerned about key economic issues for the city such as the threat to Ford's Dagenham factory, or issues of social justice such as Third World debt. Some will want to make their voices heard through public protests. In organising such events, they will have to contend with all sorts of problems - from the parasitic activity of ultra-left groups who may try to hijack their cause by inundating them with placards, to a simple lack of resources. All that the organisers can do, and it sometimes takes up a frustratingly large amount of time, is to seek to minimise these problems. Many groups have done this.

However, the right to peaceful protest is different from violence and damage to property. When organisers give the impression not that they wish to avoid any risk of violence or damage, but they wish to repeat the scenes seen last year in the City, and even revel in conveying this impression, this is not an exercise of the right to peaceful political activity. I have not the slightest hesitation in urging people to give them no support at all.

There will be many legitimate protests and demonstrations on 1 May deserving of support. The Trades Union Congress has taken over the Dome for the day for a Millennial May Day festival whose theme will be respect at work - rights for employees, union rights, a living wage and support for black and Asian workers against racial discrimination - with bands, discos and speeches. Protests like that, and the dozens of trade union May Day activities in London and elsewhere in the country, are an entirely justified way in which those with little influence in the mainstream media can make their voices heard.

As mayor, part of my function is to provide a voice for them together with other parts of the London community - a coalition of interests representing the great majority of Londoners. And I have no problem if the tabloids want to report that.

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