Saturday, September 06, 2008
|By Kenneth Robert Livingstone, Former Mayor of London Sep 2, 2008, 12:22|Kenneth Robert Livingstone was leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 until the council was abolished in 1986 by Margaret Thatcher. He was then elected as an independent candidate for the first Mayor of London from 2000 to 2008. He also served as Labour Party Member of Parliament for Brent East between 1987 and 2001. He has announced his intention to run again for the post of London mayor in 2012
The idea that this country is a dictatorship is ridiculous – probably some of those assiduously promoting it have difficulty in keeping a straight face. Some "dictatorship" where the president accepts the loss of a referendum to change the constitution, which holds more national elections than virtually any other country in the world, and where walls and lamp-posts in areas of Caracas are vividly festooned with posters of anti-Chávez candidates. No, a dictatorship is a country like Saudi Arabia – whose leader is of course officially feted on visits to London.
Attending a meeting with pro-Chávez candidates for the forthcoming local government elections in the capital, there was very definitely no certainty of success – as with the recent constitutional referendum, defeat was possible. The discussion, as with any local election in Britain, was how to address practical issues affecting peoples' quality of life.
Caracas showed visibly the problems the country faces and progress made in recent years. In west central districts the houses of the old elite and upper-middle class are better than the most upmarket London suburb. They are surrounded by several million people living in poverty in "barrios" – rough-built slums perched on the side of mountains without basic facilities. These areas were not even marked on the maps under previous administrations!
This is the product of a system where tens of billions of dollars of oil wealth each year were sent abroad to serve this elite without addressing the most elementary questions of quality of life of the majority of people.
That has changed. A trip to one of many new community facilities showed how millions of people have been given access to a new free healthcare system, including dentistry. Illiteracy has been eliminated to Unesco standards. Further education is being rapidly expanded.
A top priority now is to transform the basic infrastructure throughout the city. So that, as mayoral candidates put it to me, people feel like citizens with a stake in their neighbourhoods.
The keys are reducing crime and transforming the city's economic efficiency and quality of life.
A remarkable programme of expansion of tube and rail lines in poor areas has begun. Alongside this it is necessary to tackle congestion, improve bus services, develop community policing, tackle waste and environmental protection.
Venezuela always had the resources, and now has the political will, to begin to raise its cities to world-class standards. But it needs expertise to do this effectively and rapidly.
That is where London's experience helps. Between 2000 and 2008 London was recognised as the most successful city of its size in world and transformed its bus services, put the police back into local communities, tackled traffic congestion and won the Olympics.
That experience is now sought by very many other cities – including Caracas. It is why President Chávez invited me to Venezuela and why, together with other cities, I am pleased to continue the programme of advice and discussion between London and Venezuela.
Kenneth Robert Livingstone (born 17 June 1945) is a British socialist politician. He has twice held the leading political role in London local government: firstly as leader of the Greater London Council from 1981 until the council was abolished in 1986 by the government of Margaret Thatcher, and secondly as the first Mayor of London, a post he held from its creation in 2000 until 2008. He also served as Labour Party Member of Parliament for Brent East between 1987 and 2001.
He was initially elected as Mayor of London as an Independent candidate after the Labour Party chose not to nominate him as their candidate in the first mayoral elections. In January 2004, he was re-admitted to the Labour Party. He stood as the official Labour Party candidate for Mayor in the June 2004 elections, which he won with a total of 828,380 first- and second-preference votes. On May 1, 2008 Livingstone was defeated in his second re-election bid by Conservative candidate Boris Johnson, and his term as Mayor of London ended on 4 May 2008.
He has announced his intention to run again for the post of London mayor in 2012. In the meantime, he has been appointed as an adviser for urban planning to Hugo Chávez.
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