Ken Livingstone left office at midnight last night, having first been elected to public service in 1971. It was quite a career and I, for one, would like to thank him for his achievements.
Livingstone was a bold politician. In the 1980s he campaigned against record levels of unemployment and rising crime and argued for causes such as women’s, gay and ethnic minority rights in a period when the ruling Conservatives said it was all “politically correct nonsense”. Time moved on and as Mayor Livingstone, Ken’s brand of urban liberalism, combined with his decisive policies on crime, social justice and the environment defined his time in office. He pioneered the introduction of the ward-specific Safer Neighbourhood Police Teams (now being copied across the UK) and increased police numbers to the highest ever levels after years of cuts under his Conservative predecessors. Livingstone saw the biggest increase in bus riders since the Second World War; he won £16billion for the Crossrail project; he was delivering over 50,000 new affordable homes to buy and to rent and helped bring the Olympics to London.
The Congestion Charge won him both admirers and critics. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg was a fan saying “As two of the World's great financial centres, New York and London share many things, including congested central business districts. Congestion pricing is working here in London and we can make similar improvements to our economy, public health and air quality in New York." Environmentalists and the Mayors of Paris, Berlin, San Francisco and Toronto were all enthusiastic too.
Yet, it's the public that matters and there are few more seductive clarion calls in an election than Time for a Change. The new Mayor starts work today. London faces significant challenges over the coming years. It needs the infrastructure and business environment to ensure its long-term economic prosperity. Crime needs to continue to fall and in particular concerns about youth violence need to be addressed. Our environment needs safeguarding and Londoners need decent, affordable places to live. Mayor Livingstone made real progress on all of those issues and led London to be seen one of the world’s greatest multi-cultural cities. Achievements I think most people will be thankful for. In his victory speech, Boris Johnson said he wanted to build on some of those "achievements". I wish him well in doing so and hope his new Administration delivers policies that will be to the benefit of all Londoners.