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The world in one city

London's political decade
London had two mayors who have left their mark in the last 10 years

Tim Donovan
By Tim Donovan
BBC London's Political Editor

It was the decade when London re-discovered its voice.

A certain young lawyer, then cutting his political teeth in the Hackney Labour party, had felt the need as acutely as any during the 1980s and 1990s, a time he saw as the capital's wilderness years.

When Tony Blair prepared his 1997 election manifesto, a commitment to restoring a tier of representative government to the capital was high on the list. And so in 2000 the mayoralty was born.

The 'worst night-mayor'

It was typical of the anxieties of early New Labour that they botched the job.

They created the model of an elected mayor with powers deliberately limited, especially in their spending and their revenue-raising scope, to prevent the excesses of a maverick. And then contrived to ensure that one got the job by their ham-fisted attempt to prevent him.

However, elected as an Independent, Ken Livingstone didn't turn out to be Labour's 'worst night-mayor'. Before long Blair was admitting he'd 'got Ken wrong' and welcomed him back to Labour ahead of his 2004 walk-over to a second-term.

Why would they not? Despite the theoretical limitations of the role, he'd quickly fulfilled what Labour had hoped for the role: visibility; accountability; political noise.

Transport and policing

History will accord to Livingstone the bravery of having ignored almost universal advice to make motorists pay to drive into the centre of the capital.

Transport and policing are where the mayor's influence were felt most
Tim Donovan
BBC London, Political Editor

The congestion-charge was certainly ground-breaking. But its more lasting value may be how it symbolized a revival of the art of the municipally possible, showing what a powerful elected individual could do with a fairly small array of powers and a big personality.

Transport and policing are where the mayor's influence were felt most. The decade saw a bus revolution, a highly controversial and expensive upgrade of the tube network, the final approval and first holes dug for Crossrail, a project Boris Johnson vows to pursue with as much vigour as his predecessor.

Policing was dominated by numbers and uniformed reassurance. Compared with 26,000 officers in 2000, the Metropolitan Police now has a record 33,370, bolstered by 4,500 community support officers, a role created in 2002.

However, as the decade nears its end, there are signs of the debate moving on from numbers to the more fundamental need for police reform.

The suburbs speak up

If the government's original mayoral plans were cautious, it soon saw the potential to expand the remit. But the script went wrong.

It is a Conservative mayor who is wielding the extra planning powers and responsibilities for housing investment and employment and skills now attached to the job.

With Boris Johnson's election in 2008, the suburbs spoke and the Conservatives confirmed they were seriously back in business.

It's early days, and his arrival has coincided with a deep recession, but the guiding principles of a Johnson mayoralty are in place.

A more strategic, less interfering administration for and of the capital; belt-tightening; a few big projects done properly, not a plethora pursued in vain. And perhaps signs already of a fundamental tension. A politician with a restless mind and expansive tendencies reined in by the financial and ideological constraints he has imposed on himself.

The capital counts

But if the Mayor and the Greater London Authority have hogged the political limelight, they were only part of the story. Winning back London was vital to Labour's electoral revival and it was vital, to maintain that confidence, that policies were seen to work here.

In education, academies flourished, and results improved. London Challenge concentrated expertise and resources on restoring confidence in the secondary schools of five inner London boroughs. The government says it reaped dividends.

In 2005 43% of pupils got five A-C GSCEs including English and Maths. Last year, it was 53%. But critics argue it's not enough given the money pumped in.

It was a decade, too, when the capital benefited from new hospitals and new health centres, though the way many were delivered - via private finance initiatives - was controversial.

Oxford Circus
London dared believe it had become the coolest and most successful capital in the world
Tim Donovan

The rise and fall

The benign economic conditions helped. For much of the decade - before the turbulence that followed - the capital basked in the warmth of its radiant financial, creative and IT sectors.

London dared believe it had become the coolest and most successful capital in the world. Even the mayor of New York suggested there was something in that premise.

Now the bubble's burst, the light regulation which made the decade so golden for investment bankers and hedge fund managers doesn't look nearly so clever.

The huge bonuses may have helped finance the boom in London's service industries, its restaurants and bars, its Polish electricians and Lithuanian nannies. But in a deep recession, some think the capital's middle classes are - at decade's end - not so much smug and comforted by the rising value in their homes as wondering now, with some anxiety, where their children will be able to afford to live when they grow up.

The challenges to come

Your Decade
What are your key memories from the last 10 years in the capital?
Email us and even send photos to yourlondon@bbc.co.uk and we'll publish as many as we can.

Despite the importance of London and the south-east to Labour's electoral success, complaints persist that the capital has not received the infrastructure improvements and public spending proportionate to the tax revenues generated here.

The new Millennium began with optimism (notwithstanding the Dome) and promises of future cohesion, equality and opportunity. The decade ends with unmet concerns over immigration and criticism that while fewer Londoners live in poverty, the gap between richest and poorest has widened.

As it weathers, then recovers, from the economic damage, the challenges over the next decade look more daunting than those of the last.

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