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You are in: London > News > London Elections 2008 > Features > The Business of Politics

Business Hustings

The Business of Politics

BBC London's political editor, Tim Donovan, watches the four main mayoral candidates in action as they try to appeal to the capital's business leaders...

By Tim Donovan, BBC London's political editor

Forget his politics and privileged public school persona. For Ken Livingstone, there's something much more infuriating about Boris Johnson: he's a lot like him.

Put aside the obvious differences in age and background (and let no-one underestimate the class dimension to this struggle) and there are strikingly similar characteristics.

"They both have an effortless way of communicating in public, transforming arid plains of policy into more fertile images and metaphors."

Tim Donovan

Johnson is beginning to show he has something close to the appeal – the 'cross-the-road' factor – that swept Livingstone to victory as an Independent aboard his purple battle bus eight years ago.

Hyperbole

They both have an effortless way of communicating in public, transforming arid plains of policy into more fertile images and metaphors. Both – above all – can deploy humour effectively to deflect hostile attacks and disarm their opponents. They are too  prone to the same flights of hyperbole which can get them into trouble, though of course one man's gaffe will always be another's shaft of light, and neither men would accept the labels applied to them.

In exchanges early in the campaign Livingstone could barely conceal his irritation – the King deeply irked by the Blonde Pretender – but he would appear now to have caught the mood of his rival – if not the measure.

That was the impression at least from the business debate run by London First this week, an event where Boris again failed to appear as billed – the clown  – but where Ken too demonstrated that, despite the polling and sudden change of wind direction, he could still remain difficult to beat.

People had had their doubts about him when he appeared in the self-same hall eight years ago, he said. But he had seen what needed to be done and acted. "I built coalitions and delivered the projects," he said.

Overseas offices

What Boris Johnson can't be accused of is having a dearth of ideas. The debate is on their worth. Here, he gave an outing to several proposals, and they weren't derided: fixed penalty notices for utility companies over-running on roadworks; crime-mapping, an idea from the US empowering communities at a local level to deploy police to deal with crime problems more promptly; using the planning system more rigorously to protect small shops in the high street; and boosting English language classes for Londoners of foreign origin.

He said  he would like to close the overseas offices set up by the current mayor –in China, India and Venezuela – but under fire from London's thee major business groups said he was 'still convinceable.'

He also confirmed he would halt the further growth of Heathrow, and consider building  a new airport in the Thames estuary.

He told the audience he was 'against tall buildings in the wrong place.' To which Livingstone responded: 'Who here is in favour of building them in the wrong place?!'

City Hall

The fight for City Hall

The two of them rowed about the source of the funding for their campaigns. Johnson accused Livingstone of concealing his donors while he himself declared them all openly. Livingstone said his donations went to the Labour party so he did not know about them and could not be compromised in any future decision-making, particularly on planning.

Flip-flopping

Livingstone attacked his Tory opponent for 'flip-flopping' on the congestion charge, the new Low Emission Zone and the proposed Thames Gateway Bridge.

He claimed the congestion charge was still working but its effects had been hampered by the huge amount of roadworks, mainly Thames Water replacing pipes. He would bring in the best people possible to deliver Crossrail, and get tube maintenance back on track.

Could Boris Johnson match his commitment when in several years in parliament he had never asked one question about London?

'We've got to get away from this notion that only Ken speaks for London,' countered Johnson.

Brian Paddick said the Low Emission Zone would hit small businesses hard, and the new mayor should be someone who listened to Londoners instead of deciding things 'on ideological grounds.'

He said Boris Johnson was not a serious candidate, and accused Ken Livingstone of using London Development Agency money to favour black communities at the expense of Muslim ones. 'It's not helpful to be racially divisive,' countered Livingstone.

Business appeal

The candidates were asked which of their policies they thought were the least popular with the City and Business.

His demand for 50 percent affordable housing, said Livingstone. A 10-pound charge for outsiders to drive into a new Greater London zone, said Paddick. Her demand for 60 percent affordable housing, said the Green's Sian Berry.  His militant cycling, said Boris Johnson, deftly manouevring against the continuing claims that he's far too much in favour of the car.

last updated: 20/05/2008 at 14:14
created: 27/03/2008

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