Livingstone: Crossrail vital for London

The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone has hinted he will withdraw his support for the Labour party if progress is not reached on Crossrail before the next election.

In an interview with Prospect magazine, the Mayor warned the government not to “duck” Crossrail, arguing the cross-city transport initiative is vital for London’s continued growth.

Further stalling on Crossrail would not “damage me in my election in 2008,” Mr Livingstone said.

“But it does mean without a Crossrail decision that I’m going to be no use to them in their election in 2009, which is what they care about.

“There are so many marginal seats in London, Labour could lose its majority just in London,” he warned.

Mr Livingstone was only readmitted to the Labour party in 2004. He was expelled in 2000 after running as an independent candidate after the party refused to back him in the first mayoral election.

Crossrail is billed as a massive improvement to the east-west transport links around the capital. Mainline sized trains would run from Maidenhead in the west to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east, with a Heathrow spur. Trains would run underground through central London, emerging to serve commuters in Berkshire, Essex and Kent.

A bill is going through parliament to gain authority for the plans and a Commons committee is currently examining various aspects of the proposal.

But Crossrail has already been on the agenda for 17 years and Mr Livingstone was deeply critical of the lack of progress achieved so far.

“Bombing the shit out of the someone in the third world? Those are the only decisions the government takes rapidly, killing black or brown people,” he argued.

His inflammatory statement followed Mr Livingstone ruminating on the suggestion he has mellowed since his days with the GLC.

Speaking to Prospect, he said many of his policies now look as radical as Conservative leader David Cameron. Anti-discrimination and police accountability have now become mainstream, he explained.

The Mayor expressed frustration that he does not have powers to redistribute wealth in the capital, adding he would like to levy a precept on income tax for the top bracket.

Initiatives such as free travel for under-16s are means to help poor Londoners, he said, claiming the move had saved families around £350 a year per child.

“London is such an expensive city to live in, and it is worse being poor here than anywhere else,” Mr Livingstone said.

Earlier this week, the mayor called on London employees to endorse a ‘living wage’. At £7.20 an hour, Mr Livingstone said a higher wage was necessary in the capital to attract a skilled and committed workforce at all levels.

For the full interview with Ken Livingstone, please visit Prospect magazine.