I am surprised at how positive I am about the news that Oona King is standing to be Labour’s candidate for London mayor. Surprised not because I previously thought Oona sucked, but because I’d approached the Mayoral selection with a sense of weary inevitability that we’d end up either with Ken or with someone rather dull and unimaginative.
Of course, there’s a long way to go before people make up their minds, but there’s a lot to like about Oona as a candidate – she’s direct and straightforward, and in a Mayoral election that authenticity is a very good thing.
She also lost a tough fight. I’ve mentioned before that I instinctively prefer candidates who’ve not had it easy for their entire political career and Oona’s experience of a public defeat while fighting the good fight (against someone I think is a political fraud and a blemish on the face of politics) makes me warm to her a lot.
Oona showed real bravery in standing up for something she thought was right when it was definitely going to be electorally damaging for her, and that’s a quality worth admiring.
The big challenges for London over the next few years are going to be about the three Fs. Finances, Fares and Future growth. (OK, that last F was a bit lame, I admit)
Whoever is the next Mayor of London will have to deal with huge pressures on policing, transport and local council budgets. That will have knock on effects on crime, on housing, on how the City feels to live in.
Boris Johnson has basically punted on all these big issues. He’s put bus fares up, fiddled around with the western Congestion charge and new routemasters, cut back policing budgets but claimed it hasn’t made an impact, and tried to leverage more money out of central government to solve his problems while taking credit for holding Council Tax down.
On the big issues, like Crossrail, Boris Johnson’s position is that he’s been willing to take the credit if government pays the bills. The next mayor won’t be so lucky. They’ll be facing a government whose instinct is to squeeze. The Mayor’s job will be show how supporting private sector growth requires strong infrastructure spend, that a strong city needs an affordable transport network, to keep pressure up on policing and anti-social behaviour, while trying to build more housing in a very cash strapped and developer unfriendly environment.
Each of these will be a tough, tough mission. Someone who can stand up to government, not be dismissed out of hand, and keep the fight going is needed.
In other words, the one thing that is required is the willingness to make yourself unpopular in Whitehall and in Council Chambers in the cause of what’s right, and Oona’s definitely shown that quality.
We need a mayor with the ability to stand up to central government, is willing to take tough decisions, and who can relate to the challenges of life in London – whether in Hackney, Tooting or Bromley.
I think Oona King could do that.
FULL DISCLOSURE AND BIAS ALERT: Oona King was part of the judging panel that Shortlisted me for the Orwell Prize. I was trying to work out whether I should be biassed towards her for Shortlisting me for the Orwell Prize or biassed against her for giving it to someone else.
It probably evens out.