Criticising Ken Livingstone again

Ken wrote in the Evening Standard on 6 July and they asked me to comment. They edited my letter but this was what I actually wrote:
London v Paris

For a socialist, Ken Livingstone is too easily dazzled by the bright lights of capitalism and he’s still behaving like the rabbit in the headlights. Ken is being hysterical when he argues that London needs a grand strategy like Sarkozy’s to prevent Paris overtaking London as Europe’s capital (ES 6 July).

As usual, his position is a mix of radical good sense with utter rubbish and we have to try and disentangle them.

He’s right that the UK, and London, would benefit enormously from a massive and sustained programme of public infrastructure investment and from major public programmes to help unemployed people gain and hold good jobs. He is also right to be proud of ending the run-down of London Underground, extracting government money to start the Orbirail with the East London line extension (and he should have mentioned his overwhelming triumph: turning round the bus service to the total delight of Londoners and to the benefit of the environment).

But Ken is just plain silly with his threat that London office users will pack up and go to Paris if that is where the next skyscrapers are going to be built. The business service sectors in London are very interlocked with each other (finance with law, insurance, accountancy; architecture with developers, engineers, construction; broadcasting with theatre and movies). All of them use English as their common language and interact strongly with universities for staff, for training and for new ideas. Rather few firms are likely to abandon ship. And if any do leave London, I suggest it would be financial firms running away to places where they can resume their exploitative practices – now that their cover of ‘self-regulation’ has been blown. France is not likely to be the place where the rules are even weaker than here.

The other fault in Ken’s logic is the call for even more Crossrails. The one being built now is clearly going to be a mixed blessing and a lot of the benefits will be hoovered up by property interests along the line. Many other transport improvements would have produced much better benefits for smaller costs, as he well knows, and it is those he should be using as the basis for his great new London vision. A lot of the best transport improvements would make the suburbs work better, link homes with LOCAL jobs and services and thus make some contribution to energy saving. More Crossrails will be more cattle-trucks feeding Central London from remote housing estates and that is not either a red or a green future.

Let’s have some visions, but better ones please.

Michael Edwards
[Apologies to Dave Byrne: I think the bit about the dazzle, the rabbit, is from something he wrote about New Labour. M.E.]


The Ken Livingstone article and the published version of my reply are here:

Act now or Paris will overtake London as Europe’s capital city, Ken
Livingstone, 6 July

[This isn’t (findable) on the ES web site yet. I’ll take it out of here and put the link as and when it appears.]

Crossrail was first proposed 40 years ago and identified as the most important rail project in London, although it would cost £300 million. But for the next 30 years, Labour and Tory governments cut long-term capital investment and it was not long before we realised just how rundown London looked in comparison to Paris or Berlin. When the Victoria line was finished in 1971 and the Jubilee line in 1977 they were the last major rail projects in London until the badly botched Jubilee line extension opened at the end of 1999. But it is the big rail schemes capable of moving 100,000 people in the rush hour and those that open up rundown and declining areas of London that guarantee a city’s prosperity.

As Mayor I started lobbying the Labour government for new rail schemes from day one but only got the money to extend the East London line to Croydon on the back of the Olympic bid. It took seven years of high-profile lobbying by the trade unions and London’s business community before the Government finally agreed to spend £16 billion on Crossrail. We won that argument by showing that compared with the rest of the country, investing in London creates more jobs, more profit and more tax revenue than anywhere else in Britain. When Crossrail opens in 2017, business people will be able to get from Heathrow airport to the City or Canary Wharf in just 30 minutes.

The ExCeL Centre will double in size as the new Custom House station allows ExCeL to become one of Europe’s top exhibition centres. The stations at Tottenham Court Road and Bond Street will trigger a huge upgrade of Oxford Street as a shopping centre. But it is in the Thames Gateway where thousands of hectares of derelict land can create tens of thousands of new homes and jobs that the biggest benefit comes.

London and Paris have been competitors since before Napoleon but London won. In the first decade of this century we caught up with New York, leaving Paris and Frankfurt far behind. Even in areas where Paris had a lead such as tourism, London pulled ahead.

People assume that the financial crisis has permanently damaged London as an international centre but only 10 per cent of jobs in the City are in finance. In fact, it is the wider range of business services in everything from law and marketing to architecture that allowed London to finally overtake New York as the world’s leading international finance and business centre.

The Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis, has publicly reaffirmed that Crossrail will go ahead and is already lobbying for a new national high-speed rail network. We now need a similar commitment from David Cameron that Crossrail will go ahead on schedule — or many major firms will begin to see the attraction of Paris.

President Sarkozy has reviewed the role and future of Paris following the election of Boris Johnson as London Mayor. Noting Boris’s opposition to tall buildings and hoping to attract some major international firms thinking of relocating, Sarkozy and the Mayor of Paris have overturned the ban on tall buildings in the French capital. You can’t blame politicians for exploiting a rival’s weakness but a year on Sarkozy’s ambitions have grown. In the wake of the financial crisis, Sarkozy sees an opportunity for Paris to overtake London as Europe’s financial centre.

On 29 April, in an hour-long speech to MPs, the Mayor of Paris, officials and mayors from the whole of the greater Paris area (which includes more than 10 million people), the French President spelt out his plan for Paris to replace London as Europe’s leading business centre.

Sarkozy thinks the financial crisis gives Paris the chance to overtake us and so proposes creating a city region to rival London. There will be massive investment of €35 billion over 10 years to modernise and extend public transport in Paris (the equivalent of two new Crossrails).

He also plans to create new centres for science, technology and culture within the new greater Paris and a major programme to give unemployed young Parisians the skills to get these new jobs.

Sarkozy will introduce legislation in October and the 10-year construction programme will start in 2012. France has always poured investment into Paris, unlike British governments which have sucked resources out of
London, so be in no doubt that the Sarkozy plan represents a huge threat to the UK’s future prosperity.

Brown and Cameron must rise to the challenge. To prevent jobs shifting from London to Paris over the next decade, we will have to come up with a bold plan for London that matches Paris. It will not be enough to complete the Tube upgrades and build Crossrail — we must be planning a second and third Crossrail as well as tramways to match those planned to link Parisian suburbs and a drive to give Londoners who have been left behind the chance to get the skills and jobs of the future.

If our politicians fail to realise the challenge, Paris could overtake London within a decade. And we will never forgive the lack of foresight by our national leaders if London returns to the decline that we lived through in the Eighties and Nineties.
[end of article]


The edited version of my letter which they published was: “Ken Livingstone is being hysterical when he argues that London needs a grand strategy like Nicolas Sarkozy’s to prevent us being overtaken by Paris (6 July).

He’s right that the UK, and London, would benefit enormously from a massive and sustained programme of public infrastructure investment. He is also right to be proud of ending the rundown of London Underground and extracting government money to start an orbital rail route with the East London line extension.

But it is plain silly to suggest London office users will pack up and go to Paris if that is where the next skyscrapers are going to be built.

London’s business service sectors are highly interlocked with each other. All use English as their common language and interact strongly with British universities for staff, training and new ideas. Rather few firms are likely to abandon ship. If any do leave London, it will be financial firms running away to jurisdictions where they can resume their exploitative practices — and France is unlikely to be that place.

The other fault in Ken’s logic is to call for more Crossrails. The one being built now is clearly going to be a mixed blessing and a lot of the benefits will be hoovered up by property interests along the line.Many other transport improvements would have produced better benefits for smaller costs, as Ken well knows, and it is such developments, linking homes with local jobs and services and thus making some contribution to energy saving, that he should be using as the basis for his new London vision.
Michael Edwards,
the Bartlett School, UCL. ”

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Author: Ed

Editor

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