The flawed candidates for London mayor

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The Independent Online

Whoever is elected to serve as London's mayor when the capital's residents vote on 10 June will enjoy one of the largest personal mandates of any politician in Europe. This is local politics that matters. Yesterday Ken Livingstone's campaign for a second term began in earnest, with the publication of his manifesto. He is ahead in the polls and his opponents look to be in difficulties.

Whoever is elected to serve as London's mayor when the capital's residents vote on 10 June will enjoy one of the largest personal mandates of any politician in Europe. This is local politics that matters. Yesterday Ken Livingstone's campaign for a second term began in earnest, with the publication of his manifesto. He is ahead in the polls and his opponents look to be in difficulties.

Simon Hughes, the Liberal Democrat candidate, has failed to bring his campaign to life. His best hope is to overtake Steven Norris, the Conservative candidate, and take his chances in a run-off with Mr Livingstone. If the Lib Dems have had a poor campaign, the Conservatives have a poor candidate. Mr Norris's role as a chairman of the rail maintenance firm Jarvis has ruined whatever credibility he might have had. A mayor with links to a troubled private transport contractor has a conflict of interest obvious to all - except Mr Norris, it seems.

In the four years since Mr Livingstone was elected we have seen the best and the worst of him as a politician. The introduction of the congestion charge last year was brave and he deserves credit. Some 70,000 fewer cars enter central London each year and the traffic problems have been eased slightly. But as a revenue-raising device it has fallen short of expectations. Similarly, although the mayor has boosted the number of buses, this has been achieved at enormous expense. Indeed the mayor's financial record should be a happy hunting ground for his opponents. His infantile opposition to the public private partnership with the London Underground cost £4m. This was not money well spent, only serving to delay improvements to the underground system.

Those Londoners who voted for Mr Livingstone four years ago must also decide if they are happy with the cynical deal that saw him return to the Labour party. It is a deal that reflects poorly on both him and his party.

The next mayor will not be short of challenges. These will range from whether to extend the congestion charge to making London look like a potential Olympic city for 2012. All of the main candidates have flaws - Londoners must now decide which of the three is best able to overcome them.

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