THE BLOG

London Must Sort Out Its Own Democracy Before Calling for More Powers From Government

12/11/2014 12:56 GMT | Updated 11/01/2015 10:59 GMT

Waves of rebellion, inspired by the Scottish referendum, have swept out across the UK in recent weeks. Cities and regions have been calling for new powers and freedoms and the bold "devo mancs" agreement with Manchester Council last week not only opened up a brave new future for the north west but also signalled wider ministerial intentions: this government is open for negotiation.

London was listening. The mayor and mayoral candidates, both openly declared and strongly tipped, have plunged into the debate. They are right to be ambitious but we need to address a bigger issue in our own back yard before we call for additional responsibilities

Barely one in three (38%) voted in the last mayoral election with the vote topping half the electorate in just two wards and dropping to less than 20% elsewhere in the capital.

Democracy only works when the voters believe that it can and it isn't working very well in London at the moment.

An enfeebled mandate means a weaker mayor, a weak mayor undermines the faith yet further. We've not yet reached the position of Chisinau, the capital of Moldova, where the most recent mayoral election had to be repeated three times due to lack of interest, but we're getting there.

We need a new approach to politics in London and again the Scottish referendum has shown the way. Here 84% made their mark. Voters relished serious debate and towards the end of a two year discussion the politicians were no longer dictating the terms of the debate. For once in modern politics in the UK the dog was wagging the tail.

The results of the vote revealed an appetite for devolution. The level of engagement, in the campaign as well as in the vote itself, revealed an appetite for democratic participation. The first, challenging though it is, may be easier to satisfy than the second but we won't engage Londoners and we won't tackle London's problems if the next mayoral election offers no more than a dreary parade of top down, patronisingly short, infinitesimally differentiated, bog standard political retail campaigns. If London needs a new mayor with a strong mandate, then London needs a different kind of politics not just at election time but all the time.

In the latest London Paper published today - A Deeper Democracy - our contributors have imagined retooling democracy for the 21st century with a new permanent agency "Ideas for London", sat alongside Transport for London and Homes for London, seeking out and developing great ideas. They have suggested the "April vote" - an annual referendum and accompanying debate on an issue of current concern and new processes for involving voters in running local services, choosing between options for an allocation of the budget, or even opting into a voluntary tax. Utterly ludicrous? What if it was linked to an ambitious life changing programme like a job guarantee for every London youngster? Bogata's Mayor Mockus tried it and 63,000 citizens contributed.

A Deeper Democracy concludes that our next mayor must draw from the experience of the many, seek opinions on priorities, work with others on design and delivery and, because collaborative leadership is only purposeful leadership when the goals are explicit, they must root it all in an equivocal set of values unconditionally upheld.

We think that this combination of fresh ideas, strong values and a deeper democracy would be good for London. We also think that a mayoral candidate offering this approach to leadership in 2016 would be very smart politics , renewing our confidence in politicians, reigniting interest in the democratic process and earning for Londoners the right to new powers.

Changing London is hosting an open meeting at the Abbey Centre in Westminster at 6.30 on December 9th to discuss these and other ideas It's not a hustings, no big speeches, but a conversation begun by Bharat Mehta, Christian Wolmar, Sadiq Khan, Radika Bynon, Tessa Jowell, David Lammy and Rosie Ferguson. Oona King will chair. Register here