Rebels as Local Leaders? The Mayoralties of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson Compared
18 Pages Posted: 12 Apr 2017
Date Written: April 12, 2017
The Mayoralty of London offers a powerful electoral platform but weak powers to lead a city regarded as ‘ungovernable’ (Travers 2004). This paper adapts the criteria of Hambleton and Sweeting (2004) to look at the first two Mayors’ mandate and vision, style of leadership and policies.
Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson were both party rebels, mavericks and skilled media operators. However, their differences are key. As mayor, Livingstone had a powerful vision that translated into a set of clear policy aims while Johnson had a weaker more cautious approach shaped by his desire for higher office. Livingstone built coalitions but proved divisive whereas Johnson was remarkably popular. While Livingstone bought experience and skill, Johnson delegated detail to others. Both their mayoralties courted controversy and faced charges of corruption and cronyism.
Both mayors used publicity to make up for weak powers. They also found themselves pushed by their powers towards transport and planning while struggling with deeper issues such as housing. In policy terms Livingstone pushed ahead with the radical congestion charge and a series of symbolic policies. Johnson was far more modest, championing cycling and revelling in the 2012 Olympics while avoiding difficult decisions. The two mayors used their office to negotiate but also challenge central government. Livingstone’s Mayoralty was a platform for personalised change-Johnson’s one for personal ambition.
Keywords: Elected Mayors, London, Ken Livingstone, Boris Johnson
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