Yasmin Alibhai-Brown: We deserve better than Boris or Ken

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The Independent Online

London is the world's favourite city. Why so? Because our capital is dynamic, unpredictable, exciting and at times menacing, glamorous, and though criminally expensive, creative, growing, open, fast, shifting, "glocal"– meaning local and global– infinitely various, a vast conurbation where the filthy rich have to share localities with the great unwashed, whites with blacks and Asians.

While crazed Christian bishops and the apocalyptic Trevor Phillips warn us about spectral "ghettoes", London swishes her many-layered, flamboyant skirt, throws back her head and laughs at the naysayers. I see my city as feminine and dead sexy. The blood of many nations courses through her and she will not be tamed nor possessed by any one of the tribes that have made her who she is.

So how has it come to pass that once again, for the third election running, the top candidates for the Mayor's job are all white, middle-class men? Suits you sirs, I guess, but not us, the canny and zany citizens of London. Twitchy anti-PC whiners who go on boringly about how the glittering prizes now go only to women and swarthies can sleep easy. In the US Democratic race, a white woman and a black man aim for the most powerful job in the world. London, meanwhile, much-lauded modern metropolis, gives us options as restricted and unfair as in the Victorian age.

OK, let me be non-racist and non-sexist and give the likely lads a break. It shouldn't matter that they are chaps. Judge them on merit. Tell me honestly, my dear readers, do we have a creditable line up as befits the capital? No, especially as the contest has already degenerated into one between two big personalities.

The frontrunners are the present incumbent, a political fox, stubbornly and skilfully resisting change, and amusing rogue Boris Johnson with his endearingly boyish blond hair and matchless witticisms which conceal his rigid, right-wing conservatism. Two other candidates deserve more attention than they are unlikely to get. The Lib Dem Brian Paddick is a smart and savvy Londoner, once a top cop and the Greens, to their credit, have picked the only woman in the list, Sian Berry.

Tonight I will be at Cadogan Hall to discuss "What Does London Need From the Next Mayor?", a question that may, in my view, be a bit previous. Who gets the job will determine the answer. The evening debate is organised by the Evening Standard and the pollsters YouGov and one fellow panellist is Boris Johnson. I hope we will not be seated next to each other.

While we are ( hopefully) disagreeing violently, a Channel4 Dispatches programme will be filleting the reputation of Mr Livingstone and cooking it in sour limes. Apparently, the Mayor likes a drink or three and has set up an unaccountable court. This comes after a run of allegations against some of Ken's unelected and powerful special advisors. Accusations need to be answered convincingly and have not been. Now one of the insiders, Atma Singh, an oily pleaser who was sacked in 2007, damns the mayor further, suggesting that paid aides were used for politicking. (No! Really?) This man, until sacked, was perfectly content to be an advisor on "Asian matters" as if we are foreigners who need translators.

Meanwhile, a Sunday newspaper claims too many of Livingstone's trusted aides are still "socialists" who debate subversive stuff like the congestion charge and Balkan wars. I didn't know it was illegal to be a socialist as I am one and proudly so. The Mayor has also been charged with being an "anti-Semite" and supporter of terrorism. The dirt piles up.

Now, I will not be voting for Ken. I think he has pushed some extraordinarily effective policies and his views on refugees and immigration chime with mine. He has been a champion of diversity for over three decades. Yet, I don't care for his inner circle, his arrogance, his bad decisions. Remember Kiley and the fortune that man made? A third term will make all this worse. He still thinks in terms of "Muslim Community leaders" and does business only with them.

But the current assault on the Mayor is wholly unacceptable. Channel 4 needs to deliver an equally "honest" programme on the sleeping habits of Mr Johnson, his business interests, his horrendous response to the Stephen Lawrence report (which he likened to witch-hunts in Ceausescu's Romania) his colossal disrespect for people outside his class and privileges. If they don't, the channel shows callous disregard for electoral fair play.

Johnson's views on race alone should disqualify him from taking charge of such a city. He has described black Africans in disgusting language and when on a British Council trip with him in South Africa, I saw how he was a Cecil Rhodes incarnate, dreaming of when Britannia was in charge and the natives knew their place. Those natives are now architects, painters, and bankers in London and they will not assent to such attitudes. His views on Muslims and women aren't any more honourable or consistent. He feels all this is OK because he is one-eighth Turkish and married to a woman whose mum is Indian, thus revealing how ignorant he is about the complicated politics of identity.

Boris is a very talented polemicist and a hopeless politician, who must think Londoners are idiots. Cameron, who claims to want to speak to multifarious Britain and break from the old Tories, has done us and his party a terrible disservice by picking this old fogey, even if he is popular with some punters. If we were choosing a city entertainer or a jester to the crown, Johnson would be perfect. A working mayor of a complex city needs to be serious, a policy wonk, committed to equality and diversity. Johnson ain't it.

It comes down to trust too, the word doing rounds in high circles. I went to a lecture given last week by Mark Thompson on the subject. Public trust is eroded in politics and lethal cynicism will disable democracy unless we can restore faith. Thompson quite brilliantly conveyed a sense of urgency and social responsibility. Unfortunately, he decided to give credence to Tony Blair's frightful speech when he blamed the "feral beasts" in the media for haemorrhaging trust. Like hell. Politicians are largely responsible for the malaise and the London election will make that disenchantment bite deeper still.

Boris as the mayor will make many Londoners want to drown in a bucket of wet oats; Livingstone re-throned will make others weep or emigrate. Millions may abstain altogether. I will vote for Paddick, but I wish we had been given better promise and a range of candidates reflective of who we truly are. The global hub, our astonishing hometown yearns for real choice and is denied it yet again.

y.alibhai-brown@independent.co.uk

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