The rein of the tyrant King Lol Bojo is coming to an end. There was abuse hurled at taxi drivers. There was millions wasted on the dangleway. There was an endorsement for Gordon Gekko. There was a plan to immortalise him with his own airport on and island and. Next year it all comes to an end, which means we have to choose a new mayor.
This leads me to ask: what do we want from a Mayor of London? We want someone who will focus on the issues that are specific to London. Someone who will keep alive that magic, which makes it special, and not package it up and selling it off to Qatari princes. Someone who will look after ordinary Londoners and protect them from the demands that the central government places on the capital, from supporting the Olympics to being the national cash cow.
It will surprise no one that I think that having a Labour Mayor is in the best interests of the people of London. Yet, what should the Mayor actually do, from a left-wing point of view? I can sum it up four key policy areas. Tackle the housing crisis by bring down house prices for ordinary people. Prevent the exploitation of huge numbers private renters. Tackle the rising problem of homelessness, up 37% in the last year. Improve the capital's council housing stock. Fortunately Labour has six candidates putting themselves forward for job and took the opportunity to evaluate their ideas against these four policy areas.
The main issues in London is lack of affordable housing and all six Labour candidates are infavour of more affordable housing, but how is it best to go about getting more affordable housing? Many developers use the viability studies, engaged in before a site is developed, to avoid their legal rights to build affordable homes. Sadiq Khan and Christian Wolmar are in favour of tightening the rules around viability studies to do achieve this. Diane Abbot has raised the issue of what does affordable actually means, £250,000 for a one bedroom flat maybe affordable by London's standards but it is still out of the reach of most ordinary people.
David Lammy has advocated building homes on the green belt, pointing out that 1 million homes could be build on 3.6% of the green belt. He claims that there is not enough space to build decent homes on brownfield sites (unless we build a lot of high rises) and that we need industrial land for business to prosper. The other candidates oppose building on the green belt and Khan was the most vocal in his regard, calling them the "lungs of London".
In my opinion we do need to build on the green belt if we are build the houses that London needs in the volume it needs and at a reasonable size. Tackling the way developers use viability studies to get around their obligation to building affordable homes is essential but we need genuinely affordable homes and not relatively affordable homes. We also need to build a lot more council homes, as well as affordable homes, to relieve the pressure of the private rental market.
The private rental marketing in London is dangerously inflated. Rents are astronomical and people are forced to live in tiny squalid homes not fit for animals. Abbot and Tessa Jowell advocate the establishment of a London wide landlord enforcement team to tackle landlords who are exploitative. Lammy went a step further to argue for expanding the landlord licensing scheme that, currently operates in, Newham across the rest of the capital.
Introducing a rent control scheme, similar to those in Paris, New York and Berlin was endorses by Abbot and Wolmar would help stop the inflation of the private rental market. Wolmar also favours greater stability in private tenure and more protection for private renting tenants. Khan endorses the idea of a London living rent, pegging rents to a third of the London mean salary.
I believe that the landlord enforcement team is a good idea and more rights are needed for private renting tenants. Rent controls are also a very good idea for stopping the run away growth in rents.
The candidates agreed that the main issue facing the homeless was the criminalisation of rough sleeping in some London boroughs. They also agreed that Tory cuts to homeless shelters and housing services was partly to blame. However no candidate identified the key issue that one of the fastest rising cause of homelessness is eviction from a private renting property. The issue of homelessness is linked to the issue of housing, namely that high house prices and the depletion of the council housing stock has placed too much pressure on the private renting sector.
The lack of social housing in London is a key issue affecting the least fortunate. Too many vulnerable people are being pushed into a private renting sector that cannot accommodate their needs. We need more social housing, which all the candidates are committed to. However what we do with the existing stock of social housing is key, particular the buildings that are deliberated. Jowell is invafour of regenerating estates and letting the original tenants move back into them. Lammy was concerned that estate generation is often a cover for social cleansing as poor people are driven out of valuable property areas so that rents can be raised. Garth Thomas has argued that any estate regeneration should be consented to by the current tenants.
For me the key issue is quality of social housing. Social housing has to be a vial option for people who need it. That means it must exist in sufficient quality and quantity. A lot of the estates that are pulled down as part of regeneration programs are better quality and have larger homes than what is being put up to replace them. A lot these builds need care and repair instead of being demolished. A lot of it does not meet current tastes in ascetics but that does not prevent them being quality social housing - or indeed beautiful in their individual way.
Other issues, outside these four I have discussed are important. Transport is a key issue and Thomas has suggested flattening fairs for the outer London transport zones is a good way to tackle the problem of rising transport fees. He also wants devolution to London. Although I am sure all the candidates would like the Mayor to have more powers, I feel that Thomas's plan is not achievable. Regional devolution is a great idea, not just for London, but the Mayoral debate needs to be on the issues the Mayor can affect.
London primarily voted Labour in general election and we now have an excellent opportunity to take back city hall from the Tories. The journey that led the Tories to a majority government started when Bojo became Mayor of London. What is important that Labour chooses the right candidate, who has ideas that can help improve lives once he or she is Mayor. After looking at their ideas I feel that the right man for the job is Christian Wolmar. However we will have to wait and see who the party chooses.