Leading Article: London? Sorted

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The Independent Online
"OI GUV I see you're an Independent reader. Tell you what, you might be interested in this..."


"I had a bloke wants to be the new mayor of London in the back of my cab"

"What was he like then?"

"Well guv, he combined all the qualities you need in this new post, being possibly the second most politically important person in the land. He was fashioned from an alloy of human qualities rarely found at the top of even our national political life."

"Gosh. What were they then?"

"Well, for starters, he's a right show-off. I thought to myself, here is someone who has the sheer vulgar appeal that means instant coverage whatever he does. A self-publicist who doesn't really have to try too hard. Maybe he occasionally gets into scrapes, if you know what I mean. A bit like Jeffrey Archer in that respect. But nothing to detract from the important job of speaking clearly for the capital here and abroad. A global voice, no less, I'd say. But he's not just an internationally famous populist elected by a method that gives him a clear mandate."


"No, there's another thing. He's got a vision for London. Now I've been around a bit and I can tell you that at just over seven million, London has the largest population of any major European city and, with a GDP of going on for pounds 100bn, if London was a country, its economy would be as big as Portugal's. Not a lot of people know that. Now that's a big city and it needs a big vision. So he's got to know what he wants and concentrate on one or two key objectives. Just like that geezer in New York -"

"Rudolph Giuliani?"

"Yeah, that's the one. You see, what he did was to concentrate on crime. And now New Yorkers feel safer and have much more self-confidence about themselves. I mean, I can remember when the place went bust. So the right man in the right job can make a difference, see?"

"Well, quite, yes."

"Going on holiday this year? Me and the wife went to Barcelona for ours. That's one hip and trendy place. They've had a few powerful - and effective - mayors. They got the Olympic Games a few years back. There you go. But London needs more than hip and more than PR. What we want is, excuse my French, a bit of radical social reform. And you used not to get much of that round our way. I mean, lots of well-meaning remarks, of course, but really nothing concrete. My idea of a good mayor is someone who has the determination to use the influence and resources - maybe pounds 4bn he'll have to spend - available to really make a start. He can get the new London development authority in and tell them what's what. Now while he sorting that out the second thing he wants to do is - hang on! Blackwall Tunnel! Now we're in trouble... Look, berk in a Merc... P*** off! - yeah. As I was saying. Get an integrated transport policy. Plenty of scope there with the possibility of adding congestion charging to existing methods of finance like adjusting the local government precept - the council tax to me and you. Getting people out of cars and into public transport and of course that could be good news for us cabbies as well. And something else, talking about mayors. Ever been to Birmingham?"

"Yes, actually..."

"Yeah all those blokes polishing their Sierras eh? Now, don't get me wrong, it's no dump and they've done some good things. But, really, they want a mayor too. And Liverpool. And Manchester. In fact any city that wants to try new leadership and tackle the seemingly intractable problems of urban decline needs one. Besides if London's got one, you don't want him to hog all the limelight, and dosh, do you? They should go for it.

"But going back to this Mayor of London. He's not just a man of vision and the rest. He's got charm, political skills and brains. A bit like Ken Livingstone you might say in that regard. But our man's able to deal with politicians of all complexions, old Labour, new Labour, Tory, that other lot Paddy whatsisname, you know what I mean? Don't get me wrong, you want someone where you know where he's coming from but you think, 'Yeah, he can work persuasively with others, he can pull a few strings, he can mesh together the wide range of interests like business, the boroughs all those new bus and train companies.'

"Now, I'm no mastermind but I could see that that man, he really had that intellectual quality, know what I mean? Impressive bloke. At the same time he's able to mix it if people try it on. He's quite able to stand up to those buggers who run the country. No messing about. You could imagine Frank Dobson doing that a bit. Right. Here we are. House of Commons. And don't I recognise you? What did you say your name was again?"

"Er... Tony."

"Pleasure... Oi! where's my tip?"