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Archive for April 12th, 2012

This is a guest post by Laurence Dodds and Raziye Akkoc, of EastLondonLines, the excellent news website run by students at Goldsmiths College, University of London.

The London Assembly elections are sometimes overshadowed by the grime and glamour of the mayoral contest. That’s not surprising when last night’s Evening Standard debate gave us the remarkable spectacle of Ken Livingstone joking about having Brian Paddick’s “wheezing” when they make love, Paddick being jovially informed by host Clive Anderson, the comedian, that he’ll have “a job under Ken”, and Boris Johnson accused of “spraying sticky water” everywhere (we promise we’re only taking the last one out of context).

But at 6:30pm on Tuesday, April 17, EastLondonLines is organising a debate between four Assembly candidates in Tower Hamlets, so we have a vested interest in drawing attention to their elections. Our site, run by journalism students at Goldsmiths, University of London, has been following the GLA elections for some time.  Despite their relative obscurity, we think they are important – and we want to explain why you should come to our hustings in Bethnal Green next Tuesday.

Our People’s Question Time will see candidates from the four main parties, including current Labour member John Biggs, stand up for their policies and answer questions from the public. We wanted to give people the chance to quiz the hopefuls on whatever issues they please.

Residents in the boroughs covered by the City & East seat – Tower Hamlets, Newham, City, and Barking and Dagenham – will be able meet, hear, and scrutinise the candidates, one of which is likely to win and represent them. Joining Biggs, who has served at City Hall for 12 years, will be John Moss (Conservative), Chris Smith (Green) and Richard Macmillan (Lib Dem).

You can find out more here, see interviews with the candidates here, and find it on Facebook here.

Because its only formal power is to amend the Mayor’s annual budget if two thirds of its members vote that way, the Assembly can appear powerless, the mere nagging spouse of the Mayor.

No doubt this owes to the circumstances of its creation. When Tony Blair was elected in 1997 he had to balance Labour’s longstanding commitment to re-establish direct government in London against the lessons he’d learned from Margaret Thatcher, from whom the city had nearly seceded in the Eighties under Ken Livingstone. Nobody could accuse the former Labour PM of being an inattentive pupil, and it was clear from his frosty antipathy to Ken that he considered city rule a double-edged sword (warning in 2000 of a “disaster” should London re-elect the red renegade). It’s easy to see the Assembly a deliberately toothless animal – a sop to the faithful but spayed so as not to cause additional threat.

Nevertheless, these elections are important. Despite the Assembly’s limited formal powers, it makes a reasonably high rooftop from which to shout your message. Its members have influence, and a platform, and consistent opportunities to report, question, or be quoted. Using its members as opinionated go-to guys is the kind of journalistic shortcut we’re only now learning we should have learned earlier.

More than that, this is an opportunity to voice your opinion on the current government. It isn’t partisan to point out that neither of the parties now in government actually won the election and that both have broken pre-election promises. That makes it more crucial than ever that the public get the chance to update its verdict. In such desperate times, in the depths of a recession, and with a Tower Hamlets council ward by-election in Spitalfields and Banglatown only days away, the results could be interesting – and they will be heard.

For that reason you’re all enthusiastically invited to attend our Assembly election debate on Tuesday April 17, from 6:30 until 8pm at Oxford House in Bethnal Green. No sign-ups or bookings are required. It is our solemn duty to ensure that the four we’ve invited all receive a good grilling, and that is something we trust you can give them. We hope to see you there.

Ted Jeory adds:

Former Tower Hamlets council leader John Biggs would appear to be as safe as houses, but he’s had an interesting journey since moving to City Hall in 2000. When Ken was an independent mayor, John was his self-appointed attack dog; when Ken was back in the Labour fold in 2004, John was his loyal servant; when Boris won in 2008, John moved back to his bullish attack dog mode. And of course, in 2010, John was the big victim of the Labour chaos that eventually led to Lutfur becoming mayor…on the back of Ken’s support.

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