Today, Londoners will have to make an important decision by voting in the mayoral election. This vote will set the course for the capital for the next four years, determining how services are run, where our money is spent and who will be the face of London for the Olympic Games.
The decision is twofold; Boris Johnson or Ken Livingstone? The current mayor or the former one? Forward with Boris or back with Ken? For me there is only one choice, I'm backing Boris.
To be a successful mayor you need to need to possess three important qualities; you must be a figurehead who can unite the capital, a champion for London who can get the best deal from the treasury and a believable candidate with a credible agenda. I think that Boris delivers all three of these counts; not even senior Labour figures say the same of Ken.
At the end of July the Mayor of London will be mixing with the great and the good of the world stage at the Olympic opening ceremony, acting as an ambassador for London. This role requires a figure that can unite Londoners under a common cause and showcase the best of London to the outside world. With Boris you get a recognisable and popular figure, but with Ken you get a divisive character whose factional brand of politics thrives on playing different groups off against each other. This approach has been clear throughout Ken's campaign and, if his aim was to insult as many different groups as possible, then it's fair to say he is to campaigning what Usain Bolt is to running fast. This year alone he has told us that the Jewish community won't vote for him because they are rich, that Tory policies are comparable to those of the mass murderer Anders Breivik and that London should be a "beacon for Islam". Such outbursts can't even be considered a slip of the tongue, offensive generalisations were normal when Ken was mayor - even comparing a Jewish journalist to a concentration camp guard. At no point do such views have a place within our modern multicultural capital: in 2012 when the world is watching, we need a figure that brings us together not pulls us apart.
The next thing that a mayor must do is champion the capital, fighting hard to secure investment from a cash strapped treasury. Let's look at Boris's record; in difficult financial times he has harassed the treasury until they poured money into vital infrastructure projects like Crossrail. Similarly he has shown himself unafraid of putting London's interests ahead of party interests, criticising the Government on policies like tax, housing benefit and immigration when he feels they are not in the interests of Londoners. Now let's look at Ken, what causes did he champion when he was in Government? He seemed more interested in ramping up charges for motorists then jetting off (first class at the expense of taxpayers) to schmooze Venezuelan dictators.
It sounds obvious to say, but London deserves a candidate with a credible policy platform which is ambitious, affordable and above all else realistic. Boris has produced a comprehensive nine point plan which includes pledges to build on the work of his first term by freezing council tax, hiring a 1000 more police officers, delivering the Olympic legacy, cutting waste in city hall and securing investment for projects like Cross rail. In contrast, Ken's manifesto smacks of delusions of grandeur- pledging to spend a TFL surplus that isn't there and reinstate policies which he does not have the power to do. But worst of all it appears likely that Ken hasn't paid his fair share of tax. Faced by allegations that he minimises tax by funnelling it through a private company, he promised to publish his tax returns, then only released selective details, later pledging to release the rest "soon". To date he has not. Whilst he told us that people who evade tax should not have the right to vote, does he owe the public an explanation about his own tax arrangements? Until then, Londoners, lets not give Ken our vote.
Today, voters have the chance to determine the direction of their city in one of its most important years. Londoners should ask themselves whether they want a mayor who seeks to unite or divide? Whether we need a mayor who sticks up for London or for his cronies? And if we can trust a man who says one thing and then does the opposite. I know my view, I'm backing Boris. On 3 May I'd urge you to do the same and once and for all say NOT KEN AGAIN.
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