The City of London has had its own local government—one of the world's oldest—since the Middle Ages. Even though it is now part of a much larger urban entity, the city has remained an autonomous jurisdiction with a Lord Mayor, a City Corporation, and, among other powers, jurisdiction over its own police force. The surrounding area of Greater London has been politically fragmented for most of its history. In 1965 more than 100 local councils were merged into 33 boroughs (one of which was the City of London), and the Greater London Council (GLC) was established to serve as the elected government of the greater metropolitan area. In 1986 the conservative national government led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher (b. 1925) abolished the left-leaning (and, by many accounts, ineffective) GLC, leaving the individual borough councils as virtually the sole governing authority for Greater London.

In a May 1998 referendum sponsored by the British labor government elected in 1997, London's citizens voted for a restoration of government at the metropolitan level with the establishment of a mayor-council government to consist of a strong mayor directly elected by the voters and a 25-member assembly. With the new government slated to take office in the autumn of 2000, mayoral elections scheduled for 1999 drew a colorful roster of contenders, including actress Glenda Jackson and novelist and political conservative Jeffrey Archer.