Tomorrow, Londoners vote for a new mayor. The job goes far beyond a symbolic role; the mayor doesn’t just shape transport policy and liaise with the police and fire departments, they go a long way to setting the tone for the city as a whole. Broadly speaking, this has meant that London has had two quite opposing characters over the last 16 years. Under Ken Livingstone, the capital was a rowdy, unpredictable metropolis that celebrated multi-culturalism with numerous free festivals, punished car owners with the congestion charge, built a bunch of houses, and had a head man who’d come out with bonkers marmite zingers such as: "I just long for the day I wake up and find that the Saudi Royal Family are swinging from lamp-posts.”
Obviously not everyone’s cup of tea, but the city thrived. After Johnson was voted in by purse-lipped suburbanites on the outskirts of the city and a wealthy West London clique, we’ve seen the capital become a slick, dull playground for the rich and useless. Nightclubs have been shut, empty luxury developments have been opened. Thinkpieces agonising over the declining quality of life in London appear weekly. There have been mass exoduses to Berlin and New York as money pours in from Hong Kong and Moscow. Home owners have done well, as long as doing well = ‘you’re house being worth more’. Renters- the artists and entrepreneurs who give the city flavour, and the workers who keep it running (and some people who are all three at once)- have been roundly screwed. Boris has presided over a period where, for an alarming number, living in Margate has become preferable to living in London. Anyone who grew up in or near Thanet is aware of exactly how absolutely bizarre that statement is. The only things of value in Boris Johnson’s reign – the bike scheme and (at a push) the Olympics – were introduced under Ken’s stewardship. As Livingstone himself has put it with typical tact, “Boris is a lazy tosser who just wants to be there.” As Johnson’s legacy is shaping up to include cancelling the congestion zone for West London, closing fire stations and night clubs, presiding over a boom in homelessness, and pushing through a garden bridge that no one wants or needs, the ‘lazy tosser’ tag is starting to look generous. This is before we get into all his criminal biznizz.
So now Bozza’s finally pissing off to live out his Brexit political games, we’ve got a choice between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith, neither man sparky enough to warrant being called by their first name alone. It would be nice to think any of the other candidates have a chance – Sian Berry has genuinely well thought out policies - but realistically this is a dirty fight between Labour and Conservative.
And it has been dirty – intensely so. Alongside Goldsmith’s widely derided attempts to appeal to the perceived prejudices of the commuter belt that handed Boris his two victories, there has been all sorts of attempts to smear Khan (or Corbyn through Khan, although the two aren’t exactly mates), including last week’s hysterical response to Ken’s utterly stupid Hitler outburst. Let’s look at it in context. Last week, Ken Livingstone, a man with little-to-no involvement in Sadiq Khan’s election campaign, came out with some idiocy about Hitler being a Zionist, an outburst that dominated the news cycle so heavily that the Guardian are still publishing pieces about it today. In contrast, on April 21st Boris Johnson, who is heavily involved in Zac Goldsmith’s campaign, wrote an explicitly racist piece for The Sun that took shots at none other than the President of the USA. Whilst there was an outcry, there were no calls to suspend him from the Conservative party, or hand wringing statements from Zac about how Boris had impacted on his chances- which would suggest that most Tories are happy to be racists, whilst most of Labour aren’t happy to be anti-semitic. But whatever, you knew that, right?
What the outcry about Ken has done is allow the papers- and the Zac Goldmsith campaign- to crudely scratch out a diagram: vote for Sadiq Khan and you’re voting for Islamic extremism. A fantasy designed to appeal to the worst in the city.
The thing is, there’s been another story breaking that would reflect on the Tories incredibly badly, but it’s not really anywhere to be seen. Whilst I’m not one for all this ‘mainstream media don’t want you to know’ nonsense that gets shared on Facebook every time Newsnight doesn’t spend the whole show covering whatever this week’s ineffective protest was, the lack of coverage from the BBC on the Tory election scandal is curious to say the least. Right now, following a Channel 4 investigation, over 20 Conservative politicians are facing criminal proceedings following charges of over spending on their general election campaigns. Should they turn out to have committed a crime- which is looking increasingly likely- the Conservatives will be facing losing a chunk of seats that will pull apart their majority in the House. As has been pointed out many thousands of times on Twitter, this pretty seismic story has been completely ignored by the BBC – here’s a diagram:
So what’s the deal? Does London find itself duped by a campaign of nasty smears and Boris’s empty legacy? Or does it show awareness that, right now, the Tories are looking like unscrupulous cheats who will do anything and say anything to cling onto power. I hope very much for the latter. Whatever your feelings towards Sadiq Khan – who seems ambitious if not inspiring – at this stage a vote that allows Zac Goldsmith to retain Conservative power in London is a depressing victory for cynicism, idiocy and prejudice. Boris has created an atmosphere where the mega rich get richer, everyone else gets screwed and the electorate are deemed worthy of outragoeus lies and sham passions. Goldsmith's campaign, a litany of baseless accusations and vague attempts to remember what a human is supposed to do, promises he plans to deliver more of the same. Tomorrow we have one of our few chances to say fuck that. Let's take it.