Boris Johnson will be relinquishing his seat as the mayor in 2016, a year after his almost certain return to frontline politics as MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip. That means, after eight years, we will have a new London chief.
The vote is still over a year away, but some very interesting candidates have emerged. Ranging from former Tottenham, Arsenal and England defender Sol Campbell to journalist and author Christian Wolmar, we are sure to have a rather varied ballot card when the vote rolls round.
London’s two mayors since the position was established in 2000 have been politicians through and through, cut from either a red or blue cloth. We started with independent candidate Ken Livingstone, often nicknamed Red Ken, who saw off Conservative candidate Steven Norris. After reconciling his differences with former party Labour, Livingstone then ran under the red flag in 2004 and was re-elected.
The emergence of former Specator editor and Conservative MP Boris Johnson in 2008 meant the end of the road for Livingstone, who had successfully overseen the awarding of the 2012 Olympics to London and beginnings of the now dubbed Boris Bikes scheme. Johnson has been a largely popular mayor, earning praise for his light hearted and often eccentric approach to the job. However, as revealed in a previous column of mine in December, Johnson has not really accomplished that much beyond a few vanity projects.
I concluded that he will be remembered for rolling out London’s cycle hire scheme, bringing back the Routemaster bus, introducing an ill-fated cable car in the east, battling with the transport unions and constantly talking about his alternative to extra runways at existing airports – Boris Island.
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So, after all that hot air, what should we demand from the next London mayor. Unsurprisingly I would argue for a candidate with extensive experience of what it takes to create a vibrant and supportive hub for businesses. Besides piggy-backing on the Tech City movement and clocking up air miles on trade missions, it is hard to pick out what Johnson has done in this space.
You only have to look to Michael Bloomberg to see how useful it can be to have someone with a business background. Bloomberg served as mayor of New York for 13 years and transformed, with a little help from former mayor Rudy Giuliani, the US city from a place reeling after the 9/11 terrorist attacks to a city booming. He inherited New York in the red and handed it over in the black.
Despite many slip ups when it came to public speaking, his business background and firm grasp of numbers gave him an unrivalled position from which to make big decisions. Perhaps his biggest accomplishment was ensuring New York was once again a place tourists wanted to visit, bringing with them a valuable influx of spending – boosting the businesses that felt so worried after the Twin Towers attack.
Looking at the provisional list for the London mayor election in 2016, there are some promising declared candidates. Financial services entrepreneur and gay rights campaigner Ivan Massow is a Conservative runner – as is Stephen Greenhalgh, businessman and deputy mayor for policing and crime.
However, an overwhelming majority of confirmed candidates are either MPs or part of the London Assembly. In other words, they all have party rhetoric built into their psyche and little to no experience of running a business.
Being London mayor is arguable similar to being CEO of a business. You have shareholders in the form of citizens, a finance department in the form of a budget and boardroom in the shape of the London Assembly. Why not have a mayor who has done that all before?
We have an enviable crop of phenomenally successful business leaders in the UK who would make great mayors. From former Tesco CEO Terry Leahy to West Ham United FC vice-chair Karren Brady, we have a whole host of individuals who could bring the reverent tool set to the table.
If you have an alternative pick for the next London mayor we’d love to hear from you in the comment box below.
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