18 June 2004
London Mayor Ken Livingstone's second term could prove tougher than the first after Conservatives warned that they will do all they can to 'rein in' the mayor's spending.
Bob Neill, the new leader of the Conservative group, now the largest in the Assembly, told Public Finance: 'We intend to use our leverage in the Assembly to rein in the mayor in relation to his budget. We want to scale down things we think are wrong.'
Neill added that Livingstone's transport spending plans were 'unsustainable' without considerable tax increases.
But Livingstone dismissed concerns that the new-look London Assembly would block his programme. 'I'll be presenting a budget that's in the best interest of London. I expect them to vote for it,' he said.
Livingstone said his victory over Tory rival Steve Norris was a clear mandate from Londoners to push ahead with proposals to improve bus services, increase police numbers and extend the supply of affordable housing.
The Assembly has taken on a different complexion following the June 10 elections, with the Conservatives emerging as the largest group, retaining nine members although losing their previous leader, Eric Ollerenshaw.
Labour lost two of its nine members, including its leader Toby Harris, whose Brent and Harrow constituency fell to the Tories. Len Duvall has taken over from Harris as both leader of the Labour group and chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. Duvall echoed Livingstone's conviction that the Assembly would not pose too many problems for the mayor.
'Our only interest is to make London better and we're prepared to work with anyone who supports London's investment agenda. Other parties favour investment in public services and we're quite confident that the mayor's programme will be implemented,' he told PF. Nine votes are needed to block any wrecking amendments that might upset the mayor's plans.
Despite rumours that the mayoral race was 'too close to call', Livingstone was returned for a second four-year term quite comfortably, winning 36% of first preference votes, and beating Norris by 161,202 votes once second preferences had been taken into consideration.
But the mayor said he was beginning to question the wisdom of the electoral system used after it emerged that half a million ballots had to be rejected.
'A lot of people don't make a second preference vote and when they do they cancel each other out. It would be simpler to have first past the post,' he said.