THE BLOG
27/03/2015 12:05 GMT | Updated 27/05/2015 06:59 BST

Making the Case for the Capital: Why it's Time for Our Politicians to Stand up for London

It's an exciting, albeit exhausting time of year for London political geeks, speculating wildly on the General Election while keeping one eye on the imminent Labour Mayoral primaries, and googling the name of the Conservative party's latest candidate offering. But at this time of electoral uncertainty, and with the prize of devolution up for grabs, it's not just the sanity of the political wonks that is at risk, but the capacity for London to be championed centre stage.

Standing up for London in the House of Commons goes down like a lead balloon at the best of times. Too often, highlighting the needs of the capital is seen as standing up for the City. This is despite the fact that London is home to four of the country's 20 most deprived boroughs, and that the City and Westminster, while responsible for three per cent of the UK's GVA, has just a single member of Parliament.

While the union may have emerged from the Scottish referendum intact, its impact on UK politics all too apparent. If Saatchi's photoshop is to be believed, Labour is at the mercy of the SNP if the party are to have any hope of a majority. And as for the reputation of London, Salmond's portrayal of the city as a "dark star", presided over by a flaxen haired Darth Vader seems to have stuck.

The chant of "nobody likes us, we don't care" may work for Millwall, but if London persists with this kind of attitude, the city risks slipping out of the Premier League of global cities. The World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness 2013-2014 report ranked the UK only 28th on perceptions of 'quality of overall infrastructure'. It is not just roads and railways. When it comes to digital infrastructure, Bucharest's average broadband speed is three times that of London - a reminder that when it comes to competition, London is playing at an international level.

With a minority government looking increasingly likely, we can expect a degree of horsetrading to take place, dominated by nationalist members of Parliament. It's an outcome lobbyists are already aware of - pity the poor London lobbyists touring the UK at strings of Spring conferences - Belfast, Glasgow and Caernarfon. Putting aside the West Lothian question, not to mention its Welsh and Northern Irish variants. There is a clear risk here that without a clear Parliamentary voice, London risks losing out. For minority parties, a narrative which paints London as the catch-all bogeyman, to be equivocated with Westminster, the elite, the city (delete as appropriate) is all too easy to exploit.

So what then can be done to encourage London's representatives to make the case for the capital? Tony Travers has suggested that London's MPs need to act like a bit more like a minority party, ensuring that when the predicted horse trading takes place, London is at least sitting at the table. Ben Derbyshire of HTA architects has proposed a London All Party Parliamentary Group, creating a Parliamentary forum in which members from across the political spectrum can discuss the challenges facing London.

Turning cross party consensus into action is, of course, easier said than done. But it is not impossible. The past two years since the publication of the London Finance Commission report, has seen increasing collaboration between the Mayor, London councils of all colours, and unsurprisingly the ever increasing cadre of Mayoral candidates. On the odd occasion that Tony Travers, author of the report author isn't himself speaking about the commission, a council leader, Mayoral candidate or Boris himself is preaching the gospel of fiscal devolution. Cross the river to Westminster, however, and the message discipline seems to have been lost somewhere in the depths of the Jubilee line.

The lack of London voice in Parliament is not helped by the perception that those who do speak up for the capital are only doing so for self-serving reasons, unlike, say, those who do the same for the North East. There is, however, some truth in this lack of a co-ordinated London group within Parliament. The capital's challenges will not be solved by stump speeches and vision pieces alone. One year out from the Mayoral election, Londoners are subjected to an endless conveyor belt of micro-campaigns on a plethora of issues ranging from the right to buy, the living wage and Crossrail 2. Take Mansion Tax - a Labour policy which three of the party's declared candidates have opposed in pretty unequivocal terms. It's a policy whose impact will be felt most strongly in London, yet rather than a coherent voice against it, we are met with a clutch of Evening Standard comment pieces making the case three times over.

There are those who have raised the possibility that once inside Parliament (and let's face it, it's looking likely), Boris will champion London in his own inimitable way. Current observations suggest this optimism is misplaced, demonstrated by an increasing silence on London issues that do not sit comfortably with party policy such as immigration and Europe, in an exercise of self-censorship rather than party discipline.

Tessa Jowell once stated that London is a problem which every county would love to have. It's about time we saw London MPs act like as if this really were the case.