Any nation that lacks a strategy to develop its cities to the full is at a disadvantage. That is just where Britain is, and no more so than London. It is not difficult to feel a sense of frustration, despair even, visiting a European city such as Barcelona, to witness the way that culture and sport, entertainment and history, regional identity and politics, the private and the public sectors mesh together to create a place that has a sense of purpose.
London is a city that has stalled. There is no sense of London-wide initiative, no sense of spirit and little sense of pride. There is development - Southwark council, for instance, has done a good job helping to promote a cultural area on the south bank of the Thames. There are interesting proposals: the architect Sir Richard Rogers has devised a splendid plan to create a pedestrain area sweeping down from Trafalgar Square to the Thames. But all too often these are lone voices.
What London lacks is a focus and a voice for what are genuinely its interests. The Labour Party yesterday came up with some sensible, cautious proposals to create a Greater London Authority, a directly elected authority the members of which would take the place of Whitehall palacemen and women on the boards and quangoes that now largely run London-wide services. Much power would be left in the hands of the boroughs.
As a plan to avoid the excesses of old Labour loony leftism, this is all well and good. But it does not go far enough. In particular, Labour should come out and clearly back the idea of creating a directly elected mayor for London and other cities. This is not a panacea: it would create its own problems. But what London lacks more than anything is a voice and a focus for its sense of identity and purpose. The election of a mayor, who would then be responsible for representing London and fighting for its interests in the wider world, would be an excellent way to provide both voice and focus. The creation of directly elected mayors for all large cities would reinvigorate local democracy and enliven drab urban politics with leaders of potential clout and perhaps some personality. So, as usual, Mr Blair, don't smother your instincts in caution; shock us, be bold.Reuse content