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Achieving the Achievable

Inside Politics – The Policy Exchange newsletter (London), 2 May 2008

The Daily Telegraph featured an interesting headline in its business section today: “Can Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson help end the credit crunch?” They could have equally asked whether the new Mayor could abolish gravity and make water flow upwards. For all the power that the Mayor has, there is little he can do to calm the world’s troubled financial markets. But there are certainly things that Mayor Johnson can do to make London a better place to do business.

Perhaps the biggest threat to London’s future as a major international hub is its quality of life. We all recognise the inconveniences that make life harder in our city: being stuck on the Tube because of some obscure signal failure; struggling to make one’s steps on the property ladder; paying extortionate prices for the basic necessities of life; or going through the modern traveller’s equivalent of purgatory, Heathrow.

To make us feel worse, visits to other major cities in Europe and around the globe remind us that it need not be this way. Flying into or out of Zurich is a delight; public transport in Hong Kong is clean and efficient; housing in Berlin costs a fraction of London’s prices.

There is a danger that London will increasingly be seen as a place where one would rather not like to live. And this would be a disaster for our local economy, as talented and qualified people would then decide to settle somewhere else instead, and London would lose the cosmopolitan vibrancy that it now enjoys.

Nobody can expect Boris to solve the banking crisis. But where he has the powers to improve London’s quality of life – especially in transport and housing – he must do so: for the sake of the city’s inhabitants, but ultimately also to maintain its position as an attractive place to do business.

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