Thursday, August 31, 2006
Anyone But Ken Talks to Lee Rotherham
In the fourth of our series of interviews with prospective Conservative Party mayoral candidates we've spoken to Lee Rotherham. As with all our interviewees, we'd like to thank Lee for taking the time out to answer our questions.
As you’d probably agree, whoever is the Mayor of London should have affinity with the city. So what do you most like about living in London?
I suppose it’s the weight of history. The British Empire gave a unique dimension to this city of Marlowe and Shakespeare. The grandeur of our Victoriana and the whole bustling vastness of the Docklands; the legacy of the many galleries, museums and theatres that are of world class standing: they give the city a unique place on the planet. Of course, with the Empire came different cultures that have added vibrancy, variety and (at times literally) spice. It’s a beautiful, ancient city that’s alive.
What is your earliest memory of living in London?
My very first memory of London is from a school trip. We came down for a day from primary school. I was astounded by all the tower blocks and snapped away with my camera at one after another - an early interest in social housing, perhaps!
Which part of London is your favourite?
That’s not an easy choice to make, because part of the city’s attraction lies in its variety. I suppose it would be the Covent Garden-Leicester Square-Chinatown triangle. But my favourite single spot would have to be the view from the south bank of the river at Blackfriars.
What do you consider to be the worst thing done to London and Londoners during Livingstone Administration?
The problem is that there are so many examples from which to choose. Perhaps that’s the issue – that as part of the process of squandering both local democracy and all our tax money, Mayor Livingstone has also brought his position and our city into disrepute. I was particularly shamed by his Tiananmen gaffe.
As has been commented on ConservativeHome. Should the Mayor be spending large sums of taxpayers’ money promoting himself? What would you do instead?
It’s a disgrace that we have this huge propaganda budget, endorsing a shaky system of government and by extension the incumbent. Can someone possibly tell me who in the Mayor’s Office has run a cost-benefit analysis of his cinema adverts? How much has been frittered away on the We Are Londoners ads? It’s a classic case of stable doors being closed after horses bolting.
Is it fitting for the representative of London’s electorate to spend time on South American politics?
At least Sting campaigns to save the rainforests.
Ken Livingstone is not the Foreign Secretary. But that’s a symptom of the problem, and one reason why I want to ditch the whole mayoral level of government. The job encourages grandstanding.
If Mr Livingstone wants to retire tomorrow and run for Mayor of Caracas instead, I’d be delighted to sign his nomination form.
London is one of the world’s most cosmopolitan cities. As such, should the Mayor be seen on the same platform as extremists?
Patently not; the veneer has slipped to show a flash of the old GLC Livingstone.
Should the Mayor be extending the Congestion Charge zone?
I think we should be honest and call it what it is – the Congestion Tax. No, it shouldn’t be extended. It should be scrapped.
It’s been reported that London has the most expensive public transport system in the world. Is that something to be proud of?
Given Mr Kiley’s recent comments, absolutely not.
Perhaps while we’re on the subject, some of your readers could help answer one or two questions. Firstly, on the Oyster card; given that there are now millions of them out there, who holds the three pounds’ deposit on each card? In what bank account is it held, and who benefits from the interest? Secondly, regarding the ridiculous disparity between the charge by card and the charge by underground machine, is this legal under EU trading regulations, as it discriminates against non-residents? Either way, the rack up is disgraceful.
Should there be greater balance struck between contemporary high rise architecture and the iconic views of the London skyline?
I believe that’s an issue that should be decided by local councillors. I’m mindful of the critical debates that took place forty years ago, when the new GLC tried to override local concerns and turn Central London into a Soviet-style skyline. On a personal level, I obviously would prefer to retain such views of St Paul’s as remain.
Is Neighbourhood Policing and the greater use of uniformed civilians the solution to London’s crime and anti-social behaviour problems?
I wrote a piece for ConservativeHome on this.
Again, let me reiterate that I believe it’s not the Mayor’s part to sort these issues out. Police line managers should be left to get on with their job, and it’s down to the Home Secretary and Parliament to remove the burdens that they’re facing at so many different levels. Nobody else can do it.
Should the Mayor have veto powers over local authority planning decisions?
No. We ought to let local councillors decide.
The Mayor has recently rejected the construction of the desalination plant that formed part of the 2012 Olympic bid he supported. How do think London should deal with the problem of clean water shortages?
This is a very pertinent question. It’s too easy to attack the water company. It’s also daft to tell people not to flush so often. Nor do I understand the Mayor’s apparent position that he prefers water shortages over greenhouse emissions. If we need that plant, then clearly we should be building it.
The root of the problem is a macro one. The simple fact is that the population is expanding due to a variety of factors, especially due to migration. That can only be solved over the long term by the Home Office getting a grip.
Should threats to withdraw funding for local council be used as a means to an end by the Mayor’s office?
Do I support the use of political blackmail? No, that’s unacceptable.
Finally, what would you aim to do in the first 90 days of gaining office that would make an immediate improvement in the quality of life for Londoners?
As an abolitionist, I’d improve people’s lot by lightening the load of government.
My very first act would be to cut the Mayor’s salary from a very un-Marxist £136,677 to be on par with a backbench Member of Parliament’s. That means by over half.
Following that, I’d make telephone calls to the heads of all the Borough Councils to map out a round table forum. I want the Boroughs to be at the forefront of the democratic process of London Government while I remain Mayor. In those areas where there remains a legal strategic requirement for the Mayor to act, I want the decision-making to be done by Borough representatives, with myself simply playing the part of chair.
Those calls made, I’d slash back on the hangers-on at the GLA building. I would only need a single press officer, for instance, and the place seems chocker with ideology wonks that don’t need to be there.
Which takes us on to the finances. From the start, I would apply Zero Base Budgeting to all the expenditure. There must be a clear cost value with every item. I rather suspect this is at best questionable in a majority of cases. Where the auditing fails to identify such a benefit, then the tax money would be stopped. Local councillors would be encouraged to feed into this process directly.
Those first three months would be vital. They would be the spur to demonstrate in practise how Borough-driven London government should run - freed of the bureaucracy and duplication, and pared of wasteful expenditure. I would then take the example set to David Cameron in Downing Street, and establish a working group to repeal the parliamentary legislation and give power back to local communities.