Until 2000 (well, 1986 actually) Londoners were largely expected to accept who the main parties (Tory or Labour) at the GLC allowed to emerge as Leader via a process of horse-trading and palace coups. The public wasn’t given a direct say in who led the capital until the introduction of the London mayoralty in 2000, with candidates going before the public in a manner more akin to a reality TV show than a British political institution. This was perhaps the point, as the fairly-weak-by-international-comparison role given to the new mayor was intended by our then Cool Britannia/New Labour masters to be thrown to the ‘new politics’ of direct public votes rather than stale parties throwing up the usual suspects (remember Frank Dobson?) So in theory any city visionary can stand for Mayor of London and win, provided they have the public behind them.
Our coverage of the race so far hasn’t really delved into the ranks of the minor parties – the Greens in London tend to perform better than their counterparts elsewhere in the country (except for in Brighton, where they have their only MP and run the council) so tend to be considered as media-worthy here as the beleaguered Lib Dems. The bête noirs of Brussels bureaucracy (try saying that with a gobful of stoemp) UKIP may poll more than other fringe parties (even getting two assembly members elected in 2004), but their candidate Lawrence Webb’s website (or Webbsite, even) is a policy-free zone so there’s not much to engage with.
The BNP’s choice of a Uruguayan-born candidate has generated much to scoff at in the past but their divisive policies generally don’t find much favour in one of the planet’s most settled multicultural cities. Last time round the English Democrats fielded Fathers4Justice founder Matt O’Connor, who at least had the advantage of being a little larger than life, whereas this time they've gone for party founder and constitutional anorak Robin Tillbrook, who’ll be seeking to persuade Londoners that an English Parliament will make the tubes run on time and see fewer muggings on the capital’s streets.
As good for a laugh as ever but sadly without Screaming Lord Sutch these days, the Michael Stipe-endorsed (fact) Monster Raving Loony Party have pitched up their first ever mayoral candidate in the form of ‘Crucial’ Chris Dowling (who isn’t, despite the name, a minor character from The Lenny Henry Show circa 1984). For the first time since 2004 there will be no far left candidate standing, as the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition have agreed to throw their lot in with Ken Livingstone and will instead just run candidates for the London Assembly. Given the various car-crash implosions among the non-Labour left in recent years, probably for the best.
In 2000 London elected its first and only independent mayor Ken Livingstone, although his running as an independent was hardly as a non-household name. Could it do so again? The heights of the opinion polls may be the Boris and Ken Show at the moment, with even Brian Paddick scarcely getting a look in, but former civil servant Siobhan Benita has made more media waves than most independent candidates have managed in the past. But will she fare better than 2008’s sole independent Winston McKenzie’s 0.22% of first preferences? If Evening Standard column inches are anything to go by, then yes. We’ve also heard the names Zack Gilpin, Femi Solola and Wolfgang Moneypenny mentioned in passing as potential independent candidates, but will they be able to scrape together the £10,000 deposit required or will it all remain just an internet publicity stunt for them? Nominations close next Friday.
On 3 May there’ll also be referendums on adopting the mayoral system in England’s 10 largest cities outside of the capital. The cast of Byker Grove may yet select one of their number to have a pop if Newcastle says yes, or perhaps the provincial mayoralties will remain the preserve of the party machines, leaving only London as a city where one of Right Said Fred or Garry Bushell can be discussed by the media as a possible leader of a metropolis. This probably wasn't what Tony Blair had in mind when he came up with the idea to have the post, but a city gets the mayoral candidates it deserves.