After calling off his sit-in at Delhi’s Raj Niwas on June 20, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said he would continue his campaign for full statehood for Delhi. Those opposing his demand claim that Delhi cannot be given statehood because the central government must have control over police, land, public order and services to protect its interests and to maintain Delhi’s identity as the national Capital.
Supporters of Kejriwal’s demand argue that the central government can have control over police in the part of Delhi where its offices and foreign embassies are located. For the rest, power over police should be vested in the state government. To bolster their case, they have cited the example of, among other capital cities, London.
The seat of the United Kingdom’s national government, London’s city administration is overseen by the Greater London Authority, presided over by a directly elected mayor. The mayor is responsible to a 25-member popularly elected Assembly, which scrutinises his actions but has no real power. A separate entity, the City of London Corporation, administers what is known as the Square Mile, the city’s financial district, and has its own police.
London’s administrative structure is remarkably different from Delhi’s. For one, Delhi’s Assembly has greater powers than London’s. Yet, surprisingly, the mayor of London has a degree of control over city planning, land, and police.
What is the philosophy underlying London’s governance structure? Does not the city’s mayor come into conflict with the national government and the prime minister?
To answer these questions, Scroll.in spoke to Ken Livingstone, a former Labour party MP who was London’s mayor from 2000 to 2008. Prior to the interview, a background note was sent to him about the ongoing conflict between the central government and the Delhi government. Livingstone said almost all national governments are wary of their capital cities electing local administrations and, therefore, periodically attempt to curtail their powers. London, for example, took some 150 years to evolve its current governance system, each stage of evolution bearing the imprint of the political party controlling the national government at that juncture. No national government, however, should directly administer the capital, he added. Excerpts from the interview:
London, like Delhi, is the seat of the national government. In Delhi, however, a bruising battle is going on between the state government and the national government over distribution of powers. What has been the history of the relationship between the United Kingdom’s national government and London’s local government?
Back in the reign of Queen Victoria (1819-1901), the government created county councils all over Britain, but it was scared that Londoners might elect a radical council. A council was consequently denied to London, which was instead given what was called the Metropolitan Board of Works. After a decade (of the board’s formation in 1855) it became notorious for corruption.
Luckily, the Conservative Prime Minister Lord Salisbury needed the support of a group of disaffected Liberals to have a working majority. They agreed (to support him) on the basis that he would allow the creation of the London County Council, which was established through a law passed in 1888.
Was the London County Council responsible for administering all of London?
It was very powerful and was responsible for virtually everything in London. It ran education, housing, city planning, social provisions. But it was not responsible for the Square Mile of the City of London, which was where old banks were. That had its own council, its own police force and so on. However, the national government retained control over the London Police.
But the Conservative prime minister was horrified when the Liberals won the majority in the London County Council. They carried out very good radical programmes that he was not happy with. So, in the run-up to 1900, a law was passed to create a lot of little local borough councils, which took away some of the powers of the London County Council. This system continued until 1965.
Within the first few years of 1900s, the Conservatives won the majority in the London County Council and they stopped worrying about it. In 1934, when Labour won the majority and initiated a radical programme under Herbert Morrison, the Conservatives began to once again talk of abolishing the London County Council. But the Second World War started and the plan was put on hold. After the war, we had a Labour government until 1951.
Through the 1950s until 1965, Labour ran the London County Council, but the talk of abolishing it also continued.
[The demand for an elected Assembly for the Union Territory of Delhi and, subsequently, for statehood has been closely linked to which party controls the national government and which rules Delhi.]
So the London County Council was just one body?
As I pointed out, dozens of little borough councils were created around 1900 to take away the powers of the London County Council. But it still remained the predominant power in London. It controlled the entire city other than the Square Mile. (London comprises 32 boroughs, or districts, and the Square Mile.)
But the London County Council, too, was abolished, wasn’t it?
What they did was abolish the London County Council and include large parts of Conservative suburbs such as Essex and Surrey to create the new Greater London Council. It was assumed that the Greater London Council would normally have a Conservative majority. But Labour won the majority in the first election (1964-’65) – the times had changed. The Conservatives won in 1967 – there used to be a three-year term then.
In 1981, Labour won and I became the leader of the Greater London Council. Margaret Thatcher (then the British prime minister) was horrified because we were doing radical things like criticising the police for racism, speaking for lesbian and gay rights, cutting the fares (for public transport). The day I became the leader, Thatcher made a speech saying I wanted to impose on Londoners the East European kind of communist tyranny. When I cut the fares for bus and the underground rail, the Tory paper The Daily Mail said it was the first step towards a full communist system.
[The Aam Aadmi Party government’s decision to cut water and electricity tariffs in Delhi was dubbed populist, and Kejriwal’s sit-in this month had Manoj Tiwari, the Bharatiya Janata Party’s chief in Delhi, call the protest an example of urban Naxalism. Campaigning for the 2015 Assembly election, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had described Kejriwal as an anarchist who should join the Naxalites.]
The Greater London Council was also abolished, was it?
Thatcher won a big majority in 1983, and pushed a bill to abolish the Greater London Council, which eventually happened in 1986.
Who took over the powers of the Greater London Council after it was abolished?
Technically, all the powers went up to the central government. But the 32 borough councils were still there and some powers were transferred to them. Nothing was done for London for the next 14 years. The city started to decline. So when Tony Blair was elected in 1997, one of his pledges was to create a mayoral system of governance for London.
Blair was in love with all things American. He did not bring back the Council, but created a system in which effectively the Chief Executive Officer – the mayor – was elected. I was elected the first mayor in 2000. But the weakness of this system is that it concentrates power in one man and that could lead to corruption. In America, nearly 50 mayors are in prison for corruption.
But the mayor is responsible to a popularly elected 25-member Assembly, isn’t he?
The only real power the Assembly has is that it can, with a two-third majority, amend the mayor’s budget.
Who is in charge of the London Metropolitan Police? I ask this because the Delhi government’s lack of control over the police is a sore point.
For 150 years, the Home Secretary appointed the Commissioner of Police. It was usually only for five years, though the contract could be extended. The local authority had no influence whatsoever on the police.
[Delhi’s chief minister has no control or say regarding the appointment of the city’s police commissioner.]
But I read that the London Metropolitan Police reports to the mayor.
With the Greater London Authority coming into existence in 2000, the mayor was given a degree of control over the police, which needs to cooperate with him as well as the national government. The mayor sets the police budget and that gives him a lot of influence. I could make recommendations on who should be the police commissioner, but the decision rested with the Home Secretary.
When I became the mayor, a newly-appointed commissioner had taken over at just the same time. We developed a good working relationship and achieved a lot together. A lot depends on the equation between the mayor and the police commissioner.
But from what you say, there still remains ambiguity over who controls the police. Would you want this ambiguity to be done away with?
I will say, just do away with all central government’s interventions in city governance. Let the mayor oversee the appointment of the commissioner.
Who looks after security in the Square Mile?
The Square Mile is where old banks used to be. It is the old establishment thing – it has its own police force; the mayor has no control over it other than taking planning decisions.
Who provides security to the prime minister and the Queen?
They do not live in the Square Mile. They live in Westminster, which comes under the mayor’s jurisdiction. He is responsible for the security of Westminster.
But who is responsible for the personal security of the Queen and the prime minister?
The secretaries to the Queen and the prime minister.
What about the security personnel deployed to protect them? Who presides over that?
The Metropolitan Police, which is responsible for the security of Westminster.
Westminster is integrated with the Greater London Authority, right?
The Westminster Borough Council, which has a Conservative majority, has the Greater London Authority overseeing it. The local borough council has no additional powers than what other councils have. Its powers have nothing to do with the Queen or the prime minister living there or the parliament being there.
The system in Delhi is different from that in London. Delhi has a popularly elected Assembly which can legislate on all subjects in the State List other than police, public order and land. The council of ministers enjoys executive powers on all subjects on which the Delhi Assembly can legislate. Yet, it has still led to a conflict between the Delhi government and the central government.
The central government in India should not be paranoid. Democracy is about devolving power to the people. Britain is the most centralised of all western democracies. Nearly 90% of all taxes are collected by the government. In the 39 years since Thatcher became prime minister, the powers of local councils have largely diminished. We need to have a really radical devolution of power from the central government down to regional and local authorities.
It has been suggested that the national government should control the Delhi police in the area where its offices and foreign embassies are located while the state government should control the police in the rest of the city. What do you think of this?
If you have a city as large as London or Delhi, you need one overall strategic authority planning across the whole city, thinking about what needs to be done for the next 10-20 years. Otherwise, the city and its police will be running in different directions.
From your experience, do you think the Delhi government should control the police or the central government?
The national government’s job is to run the nation, its economy, deal with foreign governments and such things. No services, including police, should be run by the big, remote national government.
Did you as mayor ever come into conflict with the national government?
In 2000, Blair did everything possible to stop me from being the Labour candidate for the post of mayor. I had to, therefore, stand as an independent. I won by a landslide. After about three years, Blair sounded me out about whether I would come back and be the Labour candidate in 2004. That was because he saw the transformation I brought about in the transport sector; crime also came down. They knew if they ran a Labour candidate against me, they would face a humiliating defeat.
The Greater London Authority came into existence following a referendum in 1988. Should Delhi opt for a referendum to decide whether it should remain a Union Territory or become a state?
Yes, but give its people choices. Don’t do what Blair did – he offered a choice between the mayor and nothing. I do think everything should be devolved to a directly elected body. Delhi has what nearly 20 million people?
The central government cannot be administering the 20 million people of Delhi.
Is it a democratic principle that residents of the capital city should have a government with fewer powers than citizens elsewhere in the country?
All national governments fear that their capitals could elect radical city administrations. That was certainly the fear here. But the simple fact is that the national government should not be directly running local services in the capital. It is always a disaster. You need to devolve things to the lowest level you can.
Who looks after city planning in London?
As mayor, among the first things I did was to have working committees to draw up a 20-year strategic plan for the city. Broadly, my successors carried on with it.
There has been no conflict over city planning?
That was because we built consensus. Everyone wants the economy to work well.
What about buildings and the use of public spaces?
The local borough council can draw up a plan on how public spaces should be used. But the mayor has the power to call for the plan and take over. On the other hand, the national government can call for the mayor’s plan and take over. But, basically, they went along with all my decisions.
But it does create a situation for potential conflict between different tiers of the government, doesn’t it?
That risk is always there. They can call for the mayor’s plan and change it. But I don’t think it has been done since the mayoral system was created.
Ajaz Ashraf is a journalist in Delhi.