LETTERS: Governing London's villages

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The Independent Online
From Mr George Jones and Professor Tony Travers Sir: The Labour Party's new thinking on possible solutions to the problem of how to govern London is to be welcomed ("Labour proposes new London government", 4 January). For too may years, the debate about London government has centred on a sterile argument between the Conservatives' "no new authority" policy and Labour's proposals to resurrect something very similar to the GLC.

Opinion polls have again and again shown that Londoners want some form of London-wide government. Unfortunately, many proponents of such an authority implicitly see it as a magic solution to all the problems of big city life.

The questions that will eventually have to be faced are: what is the most appropriate area for a London-wide local authority, and what could it reasonably do?

The most appropriate area is surely that within which most people actually feel themselves to be Londoners and want to be governed by the new "London" authority. Let the people decide - by opinion polling if necessary - where the boundary should be drawn. The area of Victorian London now being actively considered by Labour is probably close to what most Londoner's really believe to be "London".

Functional responsibilities must be kept to a minimum, possibly embracing civic representation, economic development, research, planning co-ordination and, most importantly, in keeping a democratic eye on the array of unelected quangos that have long been part of London life.

London truly is a collection of villages. Its boroughs have always been powerful and jealous of their autonomy. As long as the boroughs exist, any upper tier of London government will have to work consensually if it is to avoid further threats of abolition. On the other hand, once reform of London government is on the agenda, the future of the boroughs themselves may become an issue.

Yours faithfully, GEORGE JONES Professor of Government Tony Travers Director, Greater London Group The Greater London Group, London School of Economics London, WC2

5 January

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