An outgoing London Assembly Member shares her thoughts on achieving change in City Hall
If you want to make an impact at City Hall then you need a desire to change things for the better and an open mind about who you will work with to do that.
When I look at the long list of things the Green Party Assembly members have achieved in the last 16 years, I’m reminded of all the campaigners, officers and ‘friendly’ political rivals, who helped to make it happen. I have worked with lawyers to protect the civil liberties of Londoners and a police sergeant to set up the Met’s Commercial Vehicle Education Unit.
I spent years having tea and biscuits with Ken’s staff to talk about things like the creation of London Food and a Living Wage Unit at City Hall. I have both pestered and flattered Boris Johnson, in my successful attempts to get planning protection for small shops and a community led house building scheme.
Now that I am handing over to the next generation of Green Party Assembly members I thought it would be good to share some advice.
The first rule is to have a lot of self-belief and remember all those people who voted for you (on the London-wide list) expect results.
The second rule is that the executive Mayor has all the power but they have a lot to do. I’ve often got little things done by chatting to the Mayor’s advisers rather than the Mayor. If you can make a convincing case to the advisers or the officers, then things can change, even if it is the Mayor who ends up with most of the credit for being such an innovator.
One of our early strategies was to act as a green gateway by arranging meetings between the Mayor and a variety of NGOs. We gave groups like Living Streets, the London Cycling Campaign and Roadpeace their first access to City Hall. We then followed up those meetings to ensure that the campaigners got what they were after.
A big advantage of being a Green on the London Assembly has been that we don’t end up doing ‘opposition’ for its own sake, or falling into the equally silly ‘loyalist’ trap. Assembly members elected from the big two parties have often had a harder time getting things done than I have because they are either automatically shut out, if ‘opposition’, or taken for granted, if on the ‘same side’.
Another lesson of City hall politics is that it is okay to show your passion about something you care about and still be positive about things getting done.
When Boris Johnson slashed the road safety budget and put blue paint on the roads instead of creating safe spaces for cyclists, then we rightly got angry at the rise in deaths and serious injuries. Darren Johnson talked about ‘Boris having blood on his hands’ and I had a few choice words.
That anger led to Boris Johnson reversing his previous opposition to engineering, segregation and safer junctions. They have now started to be delivered and we are happy to say supportive things about what is being achieved.
The Assembly works on consensus and that has enabled the Greens to ensure that environmental issues like air pollution have been centre stage for 16 years. As the medical evidence has grown, so has our collective understanding of what action is needed to solve the problem.
This has provided a constant pressure on both Mayors to explain their failures and that strong green voice explains why our current Mayor is far better than his complacent Government in terms of action.
I do hope Sian Berry gets elected and we finally get a mayor who will really transform the capital into a cleaner, greener place to live. However, if Sian isn’t elected Mayor, then it would be really sensible for Londoners to elect a large group of Greens on the Assembly – by voting green on the orange ballot paper.
If two elected Greens have been able to achieve so much in our time at City Hall, think how much better it could be to have 4 or 5 Greens pushing good ideas and making changes happen.
Jenny Jones AM is a member of the Green Party Group in the London AssemblyLike this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.