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Modern Britain

Creating London's GLA

by Jackie Speel, 27 April 2008. Updated 7 May 2016

While the administrative and other bodies of the City of London date back to the medieval period, they covered only the area known as the Square Mile - the former Roman city within the walls.

London steadily expanded from the medieval period. It eventually incorporated the City of Westminster, the new lands to the west of the city, based around the abbey and the palace which served as a home for parliament once it settled on a permanent home rather than following the king around the country - and also when outbreaks of plague did not drive it to meet elsewhere - and many villages on its borders.

Unlike other major cities, there was no unitary governing body with jurisdiction over even a fraction of the larger whole: such administration which existed was handled by a complex mix of overlapping authorities, mostly with limited geographical jurisdiction and limited authorities, many based on the civil parishes and vestries, with there being many exclusions at different times.

The Poor Laws from the end of the eighteenth century allowed for the formation of unions of parishes, and subsequently other bodies were set up, such as the Metropolitan Police. However, London was excluded from the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act (which followed the 1832 Reform Act), and various attempts were made afterwards to create a unitary entity.

Some advance was made with the establishment of the Metropolitan Building Office and the Metropolitan Commission of Sewers, established in 1845 and 1848 respectively and dealing with a limited geographical area in what would now be regarded as Central London (the City and Westminster combined).

In 1855 these were replaced by the Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW), which had a mainly practical remit, dealing with such areas as health, the housing of the working classes, and the building of a sewer system (largely arising from the effects of the 'Great Stink'). In a notable example of coordination the Embankments were constructed to incorporate part of the main sewer drainage system and also part of what is now the District and Circle lines - though the private company behind that work experienced financial problems which caused delays. Whatever its practical achievements, the MBW became associated with corruption and other scandals - including one involving the official accountant.

Other legislation followed: in 1861 there was a House of Commons Select Committee investigation into London government: the 1870 Education Act led to the establishment of School Boards (abolished and absorbed into local government in 1904) and in 1871 the Local Government Board was established.

Following the establishment of county councils under an act of 1888 covering local government it was decided to replace the MBW with the London County Council, which happened in 1889. [1]

The London Government Act of 1899 led to the replacement of the existing system of parishes by a system of twenty-eight boroughs (which were considerably smaller than the present equivalents), each of which had its own administrative organisation.

The London County Council

In the early twentieth century the LCC moved from the building which had formerly been occupied by the MBW, in Spring Gardens, to County Hall, opposite the Houses of Parliament. Its functions were also significantly orientated towards the practical - although parties emerged which were linked to, but in some cases differently named from, national parties.

There could be some conflict between the LCC and the borough councils. For example, the inequality of rates which were raised from property owners was one. The needs of the local population could also lead to conflicts of interest, with the Poplar Rates Rebellion being the most well known instance (led by the politician George Lansbury - grandfather of the actress Angela Lansbury).

In turn the LCC was replaced in 1965 by the Greater London Council, covering a much wider geographical area and with a wider remit. It was based in County Hall and had, initially, a three year term of office which was changed to four.

[1] It should be noted that suitably qualified women had the franchise and opportunity to be elected and otherwise involved with School Boards and the LCC - this participation in lower level government and administration was to feed into the parliamentary franchise movement, but is less frequently covered than the latter.

There was another rearrangement of boroughs in 1965, which led to the disappearance of the county of Middlesex, and some areas were transferred to neighbouring counties. The LCC's educational functions were transferred to the Inner London Education Authority (the Outer London Boroughs retaining that function themselves). This new body was the product of the changing structure of the London region - and was also due to the LCC being of a different political complexion to the central government.

This latter reason was to contribute to the GLC's abolition in turn, under Margaret Thatcher (along with a number of other metropolitan councils). The London Residuary Body was created to deal with remaining functions, and to deal with the GLC's staff, and other matters, from Hampstead Heath to the management of the Thamesmead area. (It was also to deal with the ILEA when that too was wound up.)

For the next few years London was the only capital city without a local government body to manage it - although in 1994 the Government Office for London was established. A number of 'quangos' (unelected bodies) and other bodies were set up with various functions - the most successful probably being the London Docklands Development Corporation - the redevelopment of the area being on the initiative of Michael Heseltine, then minister of the Environment.

Establishment of the Greater London Authority


Labour Party election pledge: to establish a London-wide administrative body.


March White Paper: a mayor and assembly for London. Referendum on a mayor and administrative assembly for London.

May. Local government elections, and also a referendum on the establishment of a new London authority and elected mayor: approved by 72%.


Greater London Authority Act, receiving Royal Assent in October. In November Jeffrey Archer resigned his candidacy over allegations of perjury in his 1986 libel action against the Daily Star tabloid newspaper.


First elections to the newly elected Greater London Authority and for mayor of London. This was one of the most bizarre and complex elections of recent history at whatever level. Ken Livingstone eventually broke from the Labour Party and stood as an independent, having been defeated in the nominations by the preferred Labour Party candidate, Frank Dobson. Ken Livingstone gained a large victory in the 4 May election, being sworn in on 3 July.


Ken Livingstone stood down as an MP.


GLA and mayoral elections - Ken Livingstone re-elected (see the sidebar link, right, for the 2004 election results for mayor of London and the London assembly).


Elections for mayor and GLA (see sidebar link, right, for the 2008 election results for mayor of London and the London assembly).


General Assembly political parties participating


Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green Party, London Socialist Alliance, UK Independence Party,* Christian Peoples Alliance, British National Party, Peter Tatchell (Independent), Campaign Against Tube Privatisation, Socialist Labour Party, Pro-Motorist Small Shop, Natural Law Party, Communist Party of Britain.


Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, Green Party, London Socialist Alliance, UK Independence Party,* Christian Peoples Alliance, Respect, Alliance for Diversity in Community/Uppal.

*UKIP - became Veritas and later One London.


Elections for mayor and GLA.


London mayoral elections

The name of the winner of each election is shown in bold type.


Livingstone, Ken - Independent
Norris, Steven - Conservative
Dobson, Frank - Labour
Kramer, Susan - Liberal Democrat
Gidoomal, Ram - CPA
Johnson, Darren - Green Party
Newland, Michael - British National Party
Hockney, Damian - UKIP
Ben-Nathan, Geoffrey - Pro-Motorist Small Shop
Tanna, Ashwin - Independent
Clements, Geoffrey - Natural Law


Livingstone, Ken - Labour
Norris, Steven - Conservative
Hughes, Simon - Liberal Democrat
Maloney, Frank - UKIP
German, Lindsey - RESPECT
Leppert, Julian - British National Party
Johnson, Darren - Green Party
Gidoomal, Ram - CPA
Reid, Lorna - IWCA
Nagalingam, Tammy - Independent


Conservative Party - Boris Johnson
Labour Party - Ken Livingstone
Liberal Democrat - Brian Paddick
Green Party - Siân Berry
One London Party (formerly UKIP - assembly members then
   joining Veritas) - Damian Hockney withdrew from race
UK Independence Party - Gerard Batten
Socialist Workers Party/Left List - Lindsey German
British National Party - Richard Barnbrook
English Democrats - Matt O'Connor
Stop Congestion Charging Party - Chris Prior
Christian Peoples Alliance - Alan Craig
Time Out - Michael Hodges
New Britain - Dennis Delder
Senior Citizens Party - John Flunder



Conservative Party - Boris Johnson
Labour Party - Ken Livingstone
Liberal Democrat - Brian Paddick
Green Party - Jenny Jones
Liberal Democrats - Brian Paddick
Independent - Siobhan Benita
UK Independence Party - Lawrence Webb
British National Party - Carlos Cortiglia



Labour Party - Sadiq Khan
Conservative Party - Zac Goldsmith
Green Party - Siân Berry
Liberal Democrat - Caroline Pidgeon
UK Independence Party - Peter Whittle
Women's Equality Party - Sophie Walker
Respect - George Galloway
Britain First - Paul Golding
Cannabis is Safer than Alcohol - Lee Harris
British National Party - David Furness
Independent - Prince Zylinski
One Love Party - Ankit Love



A number of physical survivals relating to several of the bodies persist: the MBW's initials can be seen on several buildings, and also lighting fixtures on the Embankments; while a number of late Victorian school buildings bear the name of the board which was responsible for them.

The LCC is most prominent for its housing construction - and a tram shed in Brixton Hill: various street signs in London still retain the pre-1965 borough names. The GLC has left a few traces, including a notice in Covent Garden, and a sign which was put up by the LRB persisted near the London Eye until the first years of the new millennium.

In contrast, apart from the building in which it meets and the website, the GLA is associated with few visible monuments - red routes and congestion signs are included in general traffic-related street furniture, and posters tend to be associated with the mayor of London.


Main References

Access to Archives - website

Keesings Contemporary Archives - some information collected at the time - and several sequences of newspapers. The GLA produces various publications, but there is, however, no book currently in print on the subject

London Docklands Development Corporation (LDDC) History Pages

The National Archives - a number of files relating to the various bodies and pieces of legislation

Further Reading

Edwards, Giles & Isaby, Jonathan - Boris v Ken: How Boris Johnson Won London, London 2008



Text copyright © Jackie Speel. An original feature for the History Files.