Labour Lobbies for London Executive

LONDON - alone among Europe's capital cities in having no overall authority to manage itself - has been told that its orphan status may soon end.But Britain's political parties are preparing to go to war over exactly how to bring London into line with cities such as Paris, Rome, and Berlin and fill the administrative vacuum created by the abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) five years ago. The ruling Conservatives who killed off the GLC, claiming it was a citadel of profligate "loony left" politicians, lean toward either an appointed committee to run London or a government minister to represent it in the corridors of power. The opposition Labour Party wants an elected body to speak for London nationally and internationally and to plan the needs of a metropolis of 7 million people currently governed by 32 separate local councils who are long used to chaotic public transportation and poorly coordinated civic utilities. Chris Patten, chairman of the Conservative Party and a former environment secretary, conceded that it was necessary to "find ways of giving London a new voice." But he stuck to his view that the authority abolished in 1986 had discredited itself. This is also the view of Prime Minister John Major, who said earlier this month that he would not accept a "rebirth" of the GLC. But leading Conservative MPs with constituencies in the British capital say that there is a need for better coordination of London's public utilities. Former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher had a great passion to abolish the GLC and its 22,000 employees. Ken Livingstone, the GLC leader and now a Labour member of parliament, used his post in the early 1980s to taunt the government. As unemployment levels rose, Mr. Livingstone ordered the London figures to be displayed on a huge canvas awning opposite the Houses of Parliament, and updated them every day. Since the dissolution of the GLC and the Inner London Education Authority along with it, public opinion has been moving against government thinking. The leading Confederation of British Industry called earlier this year for the appointment of a strategic authority to plan London's needs. Finance houses in the "Square Mile" (London's equivalent of Wall Street) have been lobbying for better coordination of the capital's transport services. Asked about the impact of the chaos on foreigners' view of London, Sir Alan Greengross, a former Conservative leader of the GLC who is currently doing research on the needs of the central business district, said: "We are not on the rocks, but we are getting very close to the lighthouse." Dame Shirley Porter, Lord Mayor of Westminster and a prominent Thatcherite, favors appointing a "government minister with clout" to speak for all of London. "He or she could tackle such things as the transport problem," said Lady Porter, who some Conservatives say privately should be given the job. "But there is also a requirement for a first class marketing promotion body to represent the city abroad. At present London is handicapped in bidding for international sports competitions and other events. Lon don needs coordination and it needs a voice. It has special requirements and they have to be met." Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Labour-controlled Association of London Authorities, agrees with Lady Porter that London needs a voice in what she sees as "the coming battle of the cities of Europe," but insists that the capital must have an elected body to represent it. "Cities are getting more and more competitive, and they have to be able to promote and defend their interests," she said. "London has nobody to fight for it." Ms. Hodge said that if the government had finally come to recognize that London needs a strategic body, it was "silly" not to make it an elected authority. "The people need representation. The city needs heavy investment in its infrastructure," she said. "The only sensible way ahead is for there to be an election for a body to look after the whole of London's interests." The argument over how London should be run promises to be an important issue for the capital's voters in Britain's coming general election campaign.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.