This time the question and answer are clear: Boris or Ken for London?
Perhaps for the first time in our lifetime, the next London mayoral election, the fourth since the office of Mayor of London was created in 2000, represents a landmark opportunity for the Turkish community in this city, although we will not make or break the election result.
We have to make an unmistakably clear choice between current Mayor Boris Johnson, who some call “the 25 percent Turk” due to his ancestral blood relationship to the Turks, and the “Red” Ken Livingstone, who has been on the local political scene since my student years at LSE in the early 1980s.
To be blunt, the other two candidates, Liberal Democrat contender Brian Paddick and the Greens’ Jenny Jones, add a great deal of color, quality and intellectual fresh blood to the mayoral race, but everyone recognizes that they stand no chance of being elected. So, we had better not waste our precious votes on them and instead focus on the decisive choice between Boris and Ken.
As a matter of fact, whoever is elected London mayor enjoys serious and direct power only in four spheres: transportation, police, housing and planning. We are bombarded by impressive proposals, manifestos and promises from all candidates. Having suffered in the opinion polls and trailing behind Boris because of some stories about him in the press, Ken is now advocating an election campaign based not on personalities, but substantial policies. We must admit that he has made good progress in this regard.
But whoever is elected in less than three weeks, he will likely blend the package of proposals put forward by all candidates and chart an ambitious roadmap to heal London’s long-standing wounds over the next four years. This is not the fundamental issue as far as I can see.
At this juncture, the real choice facing the Turkish community in London is not so much about who will provide the best urban services. We believe that the elected person will perform more or less what’s expected in this regard. There is an established system that fulfils this function.
The real issue for us to consider is how the new mayor will approach the Turkish people, civil society organizations, businessmen and artisans, students and the unemployed/illegal residents of the city and, above all, his perspective vis-à-vis our motherland, Turkey.
If we judge Ken on the basis of this yardstick, he may not pass the test and would probably fail since he has generally remained distant on matters relating to Turks and Turkey in the city, giving more prominence to the marginal groups and showing no special regard (on the contrary, sometimes antagonistic actions) towards the Turkish dwellers of London over the past 30 years.
On the other hand, London’s current CEO, Boris Johnson, in his first term, has displayed towards us Turks an attitude that has been much warmer, caring and more supportive than his predecessor. He needs another term to complete his projects and prove what he stands for. If we can unite the Turkish votes and let them flow into the Boris camp without splitting them between rival candidates and if we can also make him and his team realize what we provide at such a critical moment when every single vote counts, I am confident that this support will be returned to us in a very positive manner in the post-election era whenever our community needs his helping hand.
More importantly, it is not rocket science to see that Ken has reached the pinnacle of his political life. Should he lose this election, he will likely retire to write his memoirs. Yet, Boris Johnston is a vibrant and promising politician, tipped to be the most likely successor to Prime Minister David Cameron when the time comes.
Investing our votes in him will, in any eventuality, pay much higher dividends. In this regard, one can safely argue that the Turkish votes in this election will also help lay the groundwork for Boris Johnson to step into national politics as a possible prime ministerial contender. Hence, let’s cast our votes in full awareness of this bigger political picture.
It goes without saying that we will each form our own opinion on how to vote in the run-up to the election, based on our political leanings, party propaganda, benefits from the councils, friendships you cannot ignore and the voice of your conscience -- all will play their fair share in determining the color of your vote.
However, if you ask my humble opinion, this time you can make a big difference by voting for Boris Johnson independently of your ideological persuasion and solely on the basis of pragmatic reasoning. As such, we will, in our small way, help pave the way for Boris’s rise to power in London and nationwide, making us, the Turks, more privileged and empowered in the eyes of the mayor and his team and putting ourselves in the enviable position of somehow determining the new distribution of power in London.
No need to dwell on it too long. Our choice in this election is a clear one. No room for complacency and indecisiveness. Please register by April 18 and go to cast your one and only vote, and thus make a small, personal contribution to the writing of the history in London.
*Mehmet Öğütçü is the chairman of Global Resources Corporation, London. He is a former Turkish diplomat, and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and BG Group executive. He is currently the chairman of the London Business Network’s Advisory Board. [email protected]. The views expressed here are the author’s own personal views and do not necessarily reflect those of the organizations he is associated with.