Ken Livingstone has this week established a unique selling point for the young voters of London, as he has publicly backed the campaign to save Ministry of Sound nightclub. The iconic club, situated in Elephant and Castle, is threatened with closure if a proposed 41-storey residential tower development goes ahead. In view of the Ministry’s proximity to the build, its owners believe that anticipated noise complaints from residents will make it impractical to continue trading.
Ministry thought that it had already thwarted this threat, with the apparently successful Save Our Club campaign in 2011 – launched when the plan was first unveiled. The democratically elected Southwark Council Planning Committee agreed with the club, and voted overwhelmingly to reject the plans.
However, current mayor Boris Johnson was convinced by developers Oakmayne Properties to “call in” the application – effectively making it compulsory to proceed, and overturning the Southwark decision. This power, ironically brought in during Ken Livingstone’s reign as mayor, “enables the mayor to determine applications of 150 homes or more where a borough fails to follow London Plan policies, or there is a delay in making decisions.”
Southwark Borough Council rejected the application on the grounds that the development contained no social housing or public amenities – shortfalls that were thought to have undermined the build’s relationship with London Plan policies, which are designed to provide those very facilities.
If Boris does press ahead with using his power in this way, he will stand accused of exercising an autocratic leadership style – despite London Councils chairman Merrick Cockell’s warning at the time of the vote: “It is vital that the mayor does not abuse the powers or seek to micro-manage those boroughs with which he disagrees on planning issues”.
Regardless of doubts over the political legitimacy of Boris’s move, the mayor seems to have unwittingly handed his electoral rivals a huge advantage by underestimating the important position that the venue occupies in the minds of young voters. And the election is only three months away. Liberal Democrat candidate Brian Paddick has backed the revitalised Save Our Club campaign, which has previously enjoyed the support of global DJing icons Calvin Harris, Tiesto, Judge Jules and Paul van Dyk. Livingston and Paddick now appear to be in tune with, and listening to, the thousands of clubgoers who attend Ministry each week – an enormous PR boost for their election campaigns at a critical time.
Ministry is an example of a huge worldwide British success story. Like FC Barcelona, Ministry is “mas que un club”, in that it is a global brand, known across the world. Its merchandise ventures include clothing, internationally released compilation albums, and – rather amusingly – earplugs. Livingstone says that the club “helps present a modern and exciting global image of our city, which is vital to attract tourism, business and study in London” – a claim with some credence, given previous studies on the impact of clubs on cities such as Manchester when the Hacienda was at its peak.
Ministry reached its 20th anniversary in September last year, and Save Our Club has reminded its clientele not to take the venue for granted. Instead, they have been spurred to celebrate a state-of-the-art hotspot that still wields formidable pulling power for international stars. While their lunge for political points is in some ways predictable, Livingstone and Paddick have nonetheless stressed the value and status of a cultural icon. Boris, meanwhile, has left himself looking very cobwebbed indeed.
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To learn more about the Save Our Club campaign, click here