France is not the only place in the world where an election is about to take place. A few days after the Presidentielle, Londoners have the chance to voice their preferences for the next mayor. The format is much the same as on the other side of the Channel, as are some disturbing details. There are two rounds, most candidates promote their faces and names over their parties and policies, the contest is dominated by vanities, and the outcome won't matter much one way or another.
The Mayor of London doesn't have much formal power. He runs the police and the underground and promotes cultural event on Trafalgar Square. I think that's pretty much it. Housing and truly local issues are dealt with by two dozen councils that each run libraries, social services and parking, and make planning decisions. They don't share or coordinate and duplicate services without though. It's a gloriously wasteful setup, designed as if money came down the Thames every day in heavy barges.
Of the seven official candidates for mayor, only two get regular airtime. These are universally referred to by the first names only. The decision is between Boris and Ken. Boris is a bumbling clown and the current mayor. His appeal lies in his self-deprecating down-to-earth nature and his personal charm. With a classical education and a vast vocabulary, he always has a quotable sound bite on his lips. He sounds eminently qualified and hardworking if you get your news through Twitter. But listen to him for more than five sentences and the vacuousness of his babbling, his strained striving for laughs, and his deliberate chumminess become painful.
I now see in him the kind of guy that would rush for cold drinks and the deck chairs if you're house caught fire and then sit in best spirits there watching it burn with you. His first-term accomplishments are few. He has spread blue hire-bikes throughout central London but at the same time significantly decreased the zone where pricing is used to increase traffic flow. He has also overseen a relentless increase in the cost of public transport.
His adversary is Ken, old and bitter, a former mayor who was booted out of the office he's now seeking to reoccupy in the election four years ago. Ken, formerly known as Red Ken, is a socialist, though how that translates into policies or even ideas isn't clear. Even after the financial crisis, the power of the City is unchallenged. Ken lays claim to many of the things that Boris has done, notably the bikes, and he promises to make the underground cheaper, but there's nothing of substance beyond that.
There's nothing of substance to help you decide between the two main contestants at all. There's no point to go for one or the other. The only difference will be in the press conferences, cheerfully loquacious versus sullen and grumpy. One might as well vote for someone else, just to make a point.
It took me a trip to Wikipedia to find out who else is running. I found five also-rans without the trace of a chance. One thought on each of them: There's a former high-ranking member of the metropolitan police who’s happy to appear on TV and participate in debates but doesn't seem particular interested in the details of the job, in how to implement policies, in numbers, budgets and statistics. His main qualification, according to how he's presented, is his being gay.
The green candidate supports "a strong emphasis on sustainability and localism." In other words, she likes the hire-bikes but has nothing concrete to offer at all. There's an independent candidate who's detached from all formal incarnations of power in the city. She's so independent she might as well contest her own personal election. The candidate of the British National Party, an openly anti-immigrant outfit, was born in Uruguay and has Spanish and Italian ancestors. It's like an African-American run your local chapter of the Klan. Lastly, there's a candidate from a party whose main point is to leave the EU. What this means for London is an unresolved mystery.
Let me summarize: There are two beauty queens of opposite character and five forgettable extras. What a choice! As a citizen of a country of the European Union, I'm allowed to vote in this election. Though with not a single candidate deserving of my vote, why should I?