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The BBC's Norman Smith
"He has no doubt what the number one priority is"
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Ken Livingstone
"The first duty of the mayor is to London"
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Monday, 3 July, 2000, 12:10 GMT 13:10 UK
Livingstone needs cash

Ken Livingstone formally took up his powers on Monday
By Political Correspondent Norman Smith

Ask Ken Livingstone what his top priority is and he'll say transport. "If I get it wrong," he observes "I'll be a one term mayor."

But actually, he's wrong. It's not transport that is his Achilles heel. It's money. No more money. No improvements in transport. No second term for Ken Livingstone.

And Ken Livingstone is looking for a lot of extra dosh. Not just for transport. He wants two thousand more police officers; more money for salary allowances; more money for bobbies on the beat; more money to build low cost housing. The list goes on and on.

The trouble is getting more money out of the government is not going to be easy. Asked if he's discussed all this with the chancellor, the new mayor could only joke: "I'm not allowed in the Treasury."

But the problem is bigger than that.

Dependent on government

Indeed Mr Livingstone openly concedes that he's dependent for money on the government. But if he doesn't get on with the prime minister and the chancellor it's unlikely they'll be eager to help him out.

Mr Livingstone is confident Gordon Brown won't want to be seen as doing down London. He says he expects the chancellor to give Londoners as good a deal as he gives his native Scots.

The signs though are not encouraging. New Labour tried its hardest to stop Ken Livingstone being elected. And since the election Mr Blair and the new mayor have only spoken once.

Asked why, and he smiles cheekily and replies: "Oh I'd love to meet up with him [Tony Blair]. He's a lovely man. Very entertaining to be with." Not exactly a sign of brotherly love.

Turning transport around

Even if Mr Livingstone does get his hands on more money, turning round the transport system is likely to be a long-term business - a situation made even worse by the fact that the new mayor can't get his hands on the Tube until the government has completed its "public private partnership" for the underground.

But it's the Tube that most Londoners grumble about.

Livingstone to take the blame?

The danger for Mr Livingstone is that he won't be able to make any significant difference to the Tube by the time of the next mayoral election. In the meantime he'll still get all the blame for its failings.

On the plus side, he will revel in his role as the public face of London. The man whose job it is to sell London to the rest of the world.

Mr Livingstone is a past master at public relations. The only danger is that some fear he might attract all the wrong sort of publicity.

One senior member of the Greater London Authority, whose role it is to keep an eye on Mr Livingstone, lamented that their job was to "stop Ken doing anything bonkers".

Fail or succeed, it seems politics in London is at least going to be a lot more interesting with Ken Livingstone at the helm.

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See also:

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