Election fatigue doesn’t even come close. When London goes to the polls to choose its next mayor on May 3 it will be the culmination of a few weeks of official campaigning on the parts of Boris, Ken and the rest.
But in reality, the last month or so has been but the final lap in a marathon lasting more than three years.
We’ve known since March 2009 that Ken Livingstone intended to mount a challenge to Boris Johnson, either as Labour’s official candidate or as an independent. The following May, Oona King threw her hat into the ring, and by September 2010 – almost 20 months before the vote – it was clear we had another round of Ken versus Boris on our hands.
In other words, Boris was at City Hall for a paltry 10 months before the race to succeed him kicked off. He’d barely had time to find the stationary cupboard and learn where the best toilets were before he was forced back into election mode.
And what have we learnt in that time? That the two main challengers don’t get on much (and probably should avoid sharing lifts in the future)? That one is the mayor for the rich, and the other is in the grasp of the unions? That it is always someone else’s fault that the tubes don’t run on time and that fares are so outrageously expensive? Or that one earns vast sums from his writing and another has complex tax arrangements?
Did we really need in excess of three years – more months than there are London boroughs – to be told that our options for 2012 are exactly the same as they were four years ago?
In Britain we like to pat ourselves on the back for having such an obviously more sensible electoral system than our stateside cousins. We snigger as US presidential hopefuls spend obscene sums on attack adverts and kiss myriad babies in the hopes of convincing every vacillating voter in every primary or caucus from coast to coast to back them – and that’s just against members of their own party.
We pride ourselves on a political structure that doesn’t put its parliamentarians up for re-election every two years, as is the case for US congressmen and women. We spend less in this country to keep our democracy going than they do, we don’t rely so heavily on stunts and photo opportunities, and we set far stricter limits on funding (contrary to what recent revelations about donor dinners would have you believe).
Yet if the 2012 London mayoral race is anything to go by, we have nothing to brag about. And if the rest of the country follows suit and opts for directly-elected mayors, will we be doomed to an eternal election cycle, up and down Britain?
In Birmingham, the in-fighting among the Labour hopefuls for a role that is only theoretical at this stage, suggests the answer is yes.
I am on record stating that I cannot support Ken Livingstone, despite aligning myself with the Labour Party in the past, not least because I still don’t think he understands the concerns of London’s Jewish community. But, frankly, the never-ending campaign has made me reluctant to back any of his rivals.
I want a mayor for London, not a constant candidate for whom the mayoralty represents only a brief window between one race and the next.
It’s too late to change anything this time. But it would be wonderful for whoever wins next month to be able to spend the next four years concentrating on running London, not running for London.