The Northern Line was a nightmare last night, as it has been to a greater or lesser extent all week; I caught the very last train home before they shut the whole line down and even that was touch and go. And what’s being done about it? Well, the GLA is flexing its muscles and (sharp intake of breath) forcing Ken to write a report.
It sounds pathetic, but it is pretty much all the GLA can do given its puny powers. The way the system has been set up, the GLA has almost no ability to hold the Mayor to account, who in turn has almost no powers, all of which are dependent on the good will of the government.
Livingstone knows this, so it is pretty bloody cheeky of him to suggest, as he did today, that the GLA should be scrapped and replaced by a small sub-committee of council leaders.
Always be suspicious of politicians who bemoan that they aren’t being held to account; in my experience it invariably means that they think they’re out of reach, when in fact the’re out of touch. There is little doubt that the GLA has failed to make any significant impact, but that is how it was set up. And there is no doubt that a group of council leaders would do an even worse job. Apart from the fact that it would be entirely dominated by Labour, council leaders by their very nature go native as soon as they accept the job. They won’t be representing you or I to the Mayor but their political class and the interests of local government.
Once again, Livingstone knows this. He gives the game away by attacking the Lib Dems and Conservatives; surely it is the job of Labour GLAMs to hold him to account as well? London Labour appears to be learning from its Welsh counterpart, attempting to exploit disatisfaction with the system to force through measures to make the system less open, democratic and accountable, and entirely under their thumb. So we have the situation in Wales where legitimate concerns about how the Additional Member System works (allowing people who lose constituency elections to get elected on the list) are being abused to force through a measure (forcing candidates to choose between party list or constituency) which will simply undermine the other political parties while its own Commission had provided it with a solution that would have alleviated everyone’s (legitimate) concerns: change the electoral system.
The Welsh shouldn’t fall for this; Labour’s proposed system means that a system that is already undermined by the closed list system becomes essentially random in any region where there are marginal constituencies.
Londoners shouldn’t be fooled either. However imperfect, and genuine democratic reforms would be welcome, the GLA is the best thing we have to hold the Mayor to account outside of elections. If Livingstone wants it to hold him to account better, he should lobby for it to be given more powers over him. But of course he won’t.