Leading article: A second-rate contest for a first-rate city

Share
Related Topics

The contest to be the next Mayor of London has begun in true knockabout fashion, with the principal candidates exchanging the sort of Punch and Judy blows that David Cameron said he would eschew in national politics. The duel is between the incumbent Ken Livingstone and his Tory challenger Boris Johnson. Besides these two bombastic characters, the Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick and the Green candidate Sian Berry will have difficulty making themselves heard – which will be the voters' loss, as well as theirs.

The institution of elected mayor has undoubtedly been good for the capital, as for most other cities where it has been introduced. It has given London a voice and a figurehead, although not always, or in every respect, the one voters might have wanted. It has also produced a measure of autonomy and democratic accountability, though in practice not nearly enough of either. In his almost eight years in the post, Mr Livingstone has shown the job's strengths and exposed its weaknesses.

Perhaps his chief merit, however, is to have demonstrated that London benefits from having a mayor – which is why this year's campaign, as it is developing, threatens to be such a disappointment. Entertaining it may be but, if it continues as it has started, it will be conducted as a battle of superficial celebrity and wit rather than substantial policies.

Mr Livingstone has a record to defend, which has pluses (the congestion charge, buses and green measures), and minuses (management of the Tube, little progress on housing and haemorrhages of public money). The victor, whoever it is, will be able to bask in the glory of the 2012 Olympics, which is one reason why the post is suddenly so desirable.

Of course, a close campaign could galvanise voters and increase turnout. But the risk, already all too evident, is that it will degenerate into back-to-back editions of Have I Got News For You. Londoners deserve much better than a match between a self-important controversialist and a clown who uses buffoonery to disguise his undoubted intelligence. They deserve candidates whose stature is commensurate with the dynamic metropolis that is our capital, and a serious and open debate about its future.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Read Next
If Miliband is PM, it is expected that Cameron will stand down as party leader quickly  

Election 2015: The Ed Miliband I worked with in Downing Street

Nick Rowley
 

Election catch-up: I’m not saying the Ed stone is bad – it is so terrible I am lost for words

John Rentoul
Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living