Reading Tribune last week, l was intrigued to see that I could soon be out of a job (“Conservative government could scrap London Assembly”, October 16). According to ConservativeHome, in the event of a Tory victory in next year’s election, Cameron and Osborne’s slash-and-burn approach to public spending could well result in the Assembly being abolished and replaced with a part-time body composed of councillors from the London boroughs. It is scarcely accidental that among the most enthusiastic advocates of this proposal are Tory council leaders like Hammersmith & Fulham’s Stephen Greenhalgh.
This is the man who has strenuously opposed the Thames Tideway Tunnel on the grounds that construction work will cause disruption to the use of green spaces in his own borough. The first major improvement to London’s sewerage system since it was put in place by Joseph Bazalgette after the Great Stink, the Tideway Tunnel is an urgent necessity from the standpoint of the environment and public health, with tens of thousands of tons of raw sewage currently being discharged into the Thames after every heavy rainfall.
But London-wide infrastructural projects are of little concern to parochial Tory politicians like Greenhalgh, who start from their own narrow local authority perspective rather than from the overall interests of Londoners. It is not difficult to imagine the obstruction that a body dominated by individuals with this sort of mind-set would have raised to Ken Livingstone’s campaign for Crossrail or indeed his bid for the Olympics.
At the same time, with the increasing powers vested in the Mayor’s office, you do need a full-time elected Assembly to hold the Mayor to account between elections. Major decisions over transport and policing that affect the lives of 7.5 million Londoners require rigorous scrutiny, which could not be carried out effectively by a part-time body. Without the efforts of the London Assembly, madcap ideas like Boris’s fantasy island in the Thames Estuary would be allowed to go ahead unchecked.
It is not as though the Assembly fails to provide value for money. Londoners get 11 committees scrutinising the work not just of the Mayor and the Greater London Authority but also of the quangos running many aspects of Londoners’ lives. l would like to think that people who have experience of Assembly Members consider us hard working. The constituencies that AMs represent cover two or three boroughs and five or six parliamentary seats, while for those of us elected on the party list the whole of London is our constituency.
The proposal to scrap the London Assembly shows how little things have changed in the Tory party. Slashing public spending and attacking democratic government in the capital – if the Tories get elected next year it will be back to the ’80s for Londoners.