Ask any tourist what is the first thing that comes into their mind when they think of London, and a frequent answer is the iconic London bus. Like London itself, the red bus has a personality, a sense of fun and a long and proud history. It also represents the more practical side of our city - employing thousands of drivers helping millions of Londoners get to and from work every day. One of these bus drivers was my dad - and every time I see the number 44 it brings back fond memories of my brothers and I joking about on the top deck as it wound its way across London.
Looking at the London bus as a metaphor for our great city, I would say that we are about to get stuck in a serious traffic jam. London is a city facing big challenges. Population growth is putting huge strain on our housing, transport and infrastructure. The increasingly globalised economy means that our businesses are no longer compete just with those in Birmingham or Manchester, but with firms in Shanghai, New York and Berlin. And most worryingly, rather that sharing in our city's successes, rising numbers of Londoners are being left behind, as inequality widens and poverty grows.
Whilst these challenges can be daunting, I am confident that the innovative and forward thinking minds that London contains can meet them. I have no time for those who say the problems London faces are insurmountable or refuse to look at radical solutions because they are too difficult. I know from my years in government, years as a MP and years as a London councillor that it is possible to fix any problem if you work in collaboration with all your partners, and match the scale of your ambitions to the challenges you face.
Big challenges require big thinking - and now is the time to be bold. Over the next 30 months, Londoners will have a series of elections to think about and engage with - from new councillors, to MEPs, from Assembly Members to MPs and ultimately, the next Mayor of London. As Shadow London Minister, I want to make sure that we have a platform for discussion and debate about the future of our city - and where we want to go next. That's why I've put together and edited a new pamphlet for the Fabian Society entitled 'Our London - The Capital Beyond 2015'.
Our London sees contributions from some of the best minds in London. From academics and experts with no political affiliation, such as Tony Travers, Marc Boleat and Matthew Bolton, to politicians from other parties such as Jenny Jones and Labour politicians like Andrew Adonis, Doreen Lawrence and Robin Wales, as well as other experts like Fiona Miller, Kitty Usher and Linda Perks, the book features a host of exciting and wide ranging ideas from devolving funding for unemployment to local government, to a London minimum wage and many more. Chapter after chapter, it is bursting with ideas of how Londoners can shape our city for the future
Because despite the problems we face, London isn't broken. Far from it. We have a booming economy that competes with global cities around the world. The Olympic Games showed that Londoners are capable of wonderful achievements when united by common ambitions. We have a unique mixture of art, culture, sport and food, with the best bits plucked from the many cultures who have settled here over centuries. And despite being truly metropolitan, London retains a strong sense of identity and community - as anyone who has met a proud Londoner will tell you.
And so the conditions are right in London for bold action. It is in the common interests of Londoners, businesses, councils, government and the mayor to fix the issues we have highlighted over the decade ahead. Through the publication of Our London I want to kick start a debate on where we want our city to go - and how we get there, together - ensuring no Londoner is left behind.
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