Many of our readers outside of London will have had just a passing interest in Boris Johnson’s victory in the recent mayoral elections. London is, after all, simply a ‘region’ among eight others.
But, if you’re interested in how local and national Tory policy develops in the next two years, the importance of Mr Johnson’s victory shouldn’t be dismissed. According to insiders and indeed our own Politics Matters columnist this week (page 13), Tory leader David Cameron is planning to use London as a ‘laboratory’ to market test future party policies in the run up to the general election.
A live political experiment among a microcosm of the country’s voters is a rare and invaluable opportunity for any party to gauge what will win voters’ hearts and minds. For local government, it could give a clear view of how the local is likely to fit into the national under a Conservative government.
Yet, unsurprisingly, there are already potential conflicts looming in this hothouse. The Greater London Authority, on this basis, will clearly be run with a joint Cameron/Johnson mandate sharing close policies on crime and transport. Indeed, Mr Johnson’s head of staff is a former central office apparatchik demonstrating the importance the party places on the mayoralty. So, does this suggest that the Conservatives would be just as a centralist in power as Labour? And with stakes so high, will Mr Johnson be given real room to govern?
This will become clearer after we see how the mayor deals with his council colleagues. As our front page shows, a handful of outer-London leaders expect payback for helping him to victory and have drawn up a wish list of policy demands. These include improved transport infrastructure for outer London, ‘fairer funds’ from the London Development Agency and lobbying the government for more cash.
We’ll see how much of a laboratory London will be if Mr Johnson risks the wrath of this new constituency of outer-London leaders to toe the central party line. Keep watching, the future may be played out in just one city.