Candidates to ‘engage’ with corps

Capital of culture mayoral hopefuls plan many more festivals

Whoever Londoners pick on Thursday as the capital’s new Mayor, embassies in the capital will be the winners with all three candidates promising renewed cooperation with London’s diplomatic corps – and two hinting at a possible reprieve on the congestion charge.

Tax exempt?
The question on every diplomat’s lips was which candidate planned to exempt envoys from the congestion charge.

Ken Livingstone remains entrenched in his position, saying: “Diplomats share the benefits of the congestion charge and so they should not be exempt from the charge.”

But Boris Johnson gave diplomats a glimmer of hope, telling Embassy he planned a new consultation on the future of the extended C-charge zone. A review of the congestion charge is also on the cards for 2009.

“That will include the structure of exemptions and discounts,” he said, but added: “I can make no pledges however at this stage as to what the outcome of that review may be.”

Similarly, Brian Paddick said he planned to retain the congestion charge scheme for Central London but to scrap the western extension.

Offering a sympathetic ear he said: “Although it is supposed to be a charge, with no improvement in congestion,
I am not surprised embassies refuse to pay and see it as a tax.”

Community cohesion
Consuls will be pleased to hear that all three candidates are keen to work with them on community cohesion.

Pointing to his track record of halving racist attacks, Livingstone said he would work with diplomatic representatives to “celebrate the contribution of every community in London”.

Johnson, however, claims the current mayor’s multicultural policy is a “divide and rule” approach and said he would work with London’s consulates “to continue the integration of all communities in London.”

Brian Paddick said he was open to advice and was “ready to engage” with consulates, particularly in the area of effective community policing.

Capital culture
All three candidates welcomed more collaboration with London’s missions to bring more culture to the Capital.

But Livingstone accused Johnson of budget cuts for festivals, while the Tory candidate pledged “bigger and better” celebrations for all diasporas.

Paddick said a programme of cultural events was “on the agenda” but warned any future mayor not to “hijack them for his own narrow party political purposes.”

The Lib Dem candidate is keen to celebrate the cultures of Eastern Europe since so many of their citizens work in the capital.

All three candidates want to work through embassies to connect with other capital cities, but both Paddick and Johnson were against the oil-for-expertise deal struck with Venezuela, which they say was a bad agreement
for that country.

No matter who wins on 1 May, it seems the doors of City Hall will be open for diplomatic missions.