Monday, 2 May 2016

Mayoral Election commentary - Hobsons choice - Khan or Goldsmith?

The fight of the Century - Not!
On Thursday residents of Barnet vote in the Mayoral and GLA elections. It is fair to say that this is the dullest and most uninspiring Mayoral election since Tony Blair created the role.

Lets start by a little recap on the story of the London Mayor so far.

The history of the Mayoralty is quite interesting. For the 2000 election, Ken Livingstone stood as an independent and swept the board.

The Labour party had  performed a good old fashioned stitch up to exclude him from winning. He responded by standing as an independent. He was kicked out of the Labour party, but Londoners saw through the stitch up and reacted with fury. Labours Frank Dobson was thrashed. Livinstones first term was stunningly successful as an independent. He stuck out to be inclusive and appointed both Lib Dems and Greens as deputies. He brought in some innovative and very successful ideas, such as the congenstion charge and the Oyster card. He also managed to avoid upsetting people. Being an independent with no party base, clearly he had to manage his affairs in a sensible manner. Before the 2004 election, Tony Blair, keen not to be embarrassed by another loss, bent the rules and had Livingstone readmitted. Livingstone swept the board again, with the power of the abour machine behind him. It is fair to say that his second term wasn't the success of the first term. With the party in line and behind him, he seemed to feel he was invincible. A series of truly awful blunders followed, but the perceived wisdom was that Livingstone was untouchable. Despite some notable success, such as securing the Olympics, against all the odds and a truly dignified response in the light of 2005 7/7 atrocity, by the end of his second term Livingstone had lost some of his lustre.

In 2008, Boris Johnson threw his hat into the ring. At first this was perceived as almost a comedy challenge. Boris had been a dismal failure as an MP and the only thing he seemed to be good at was playingthe self depreciating Tory fool on Have I Got News For You. What Boris had spotted, that no one else had noticed, least of all most of his Tory colleagues, was that Livingstone was percieved as unpleasant and autocratic and that he was there for the taking with the right sort of campaign. Boris seized on the fact that Livingstone had several highly unpopular schemes in various stages of planning. Many of these had been rejected in consulations by the residents they were meant to serve. The western congestion charge zone was one. The West London Tram scheme was another. Livingstone also had been caught on microphone making remarks which were percieved as highly offensive by the Jewish community.

Boris also recognised that Londoners were unhappy with some of Kens innovations. He railed against bendy buses, promising a new routemaster. He made hay with the fact he was a cyclist and promised a revolution in cycling in London. Londoners liked the fact Boris had a sense of humour. In contrast, Ken seemed austere and past his sell by date. Boris won. Many on the Labour benches buried their heads in the sand and simply decided that Londons electorate had got it wrong. In 2012, they ran exactly the same campaign as in 2008 and got the same result. Many Labour activists sat scratching their heads afterwards, complaining that the electorate had got it wrong. What was incredible about the 2012 election was that Team Boris made gaffe after gaffe, but the Labour simply couldn't be bothered to get off their backsides and shout about them. One such example was when Team Boris PR chief Lynton Crosby said he was going to "blitz Barnet". Can you imagine the field day Zac Goldsmiths team would have if Sadiq Khan said that?

 Zac Goldsmith

So here we are in 2016. We have no Boris and no Ken. Instead we are left to choose between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith. I was having a chat with a friend in the Mill Hill Tandoori last night and he joked that it was a choice between anti semitism or islamaphobia. It is quite hilarious that both campaigns have played these cards. Is  Zac Goldsmith Islamaphobic? I for one strongly doubt it given that his sisters former husband and still great friend is Imran Khan, who is now a Pakistani politician with radical islamic connections. Imran is always welcome in Zacs gaffe. I for one think that this is a very good thing, should Zac end up Mayor. As for Khan, everyone in the Tory party knows he's about as far from a radical islamist as you can get. The Daily Mirror reported
"Life-long Tory and Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne told the BBC's Sunday Politics programme: " Sadiq Khan is as mainstream as they come. He fights anti-Semitism. He backs same-sex marriage. He's against extremism, and he's being portrayed as some radical in the literature of Zac Goldsmith He added: "It's very important that Londoners vote out Zac Goldsmith and his disgusting campaign."."
Wheras both Ken and Boris had a vision for London and a set of easily identifable plans, (Oyster cards, congestion charges, Boris bikes, Boris buses, etc), Goldsmith and Khan seem to be policy free zones.  I had a look at both candidates plans. Lets discuss Zac's first

Start fixing London’s housing crisis by:

Doubling home building to 50,000 a year by 2020 and ensuring development is in keeping with the local area.
Giving Londoners the first chance to buy new homes built in London
Ensuring a significant proportion of all new homes are only for rent and not for sale

Improve the capacity and reliability of London’s transport system by:

Ensuring the Night Tube goes ahead, starting Crossrail 2, and growing the rail network
Bringing suburban rail services under the Mayor’s control to increase and improve the service
Protecting the Freedom Pass

Improve London’s living environment by:

Protecting the green belt from developmentTackling air pollution with tougher rules on HGVs, and encouraging greener vehicles and safer cycling
Creating more green spaces and cleaning up local parks so they are safe to visit and enjoy

Make London’s streets safer by:

Protecting neighbourhood police teams and keeping them on the street
Tackling the root causes of crime in local communities
Putting more police on public transport at night

All paid for without increasing Mayoral council tax.

This is perhaps the most stale, lacklustre and dull plan imaginable. It is quite clear that it is all waffle and guff. Lets have a look at the plan in detail

Start fixing London’s housing crisis by:
It is quite clear that Zac Goldsmith isn't going to build council houses. The 50,000 "homes" wll doubtless be luxury flats for rich foregners, like most of the developments in Mill Hill and the rest of Barnet. This is obvious as Goldsmith makes no commitment to affordability. He states that Londoners will get the first chance to buy property, but if they can't afford them this is meaningless. He claims that "a significant proportion will be for rent not sale". It is telling that he doesn't assign a number. As these won't be built by Councils, what he means is he's going to line the pockets of landlords, developers and buy to let speculators.

Improve the capacity and reliability of London’s transport system by:

 Goldsmith here simply reiterates plans already in progress, such as Crossrail2 and the plans for TFL to take over suburban services. He talks about growing the rail network. What new lines? This is simply waffle unless he states what he's going to do. As for protecting the Freedom Pass, this is arch hypocricy, given that his man in Barnet, Dan Thomas, has presided over a regime which has removed it without notice from many local disabled people.

Improve London’s living environment by:

Again this is all guff. Ken was putting strict levels for pollution in place. Boris suspended and abolished them. As for creating new green spaces, does anyone seriously believe that you Zac will knoc down flats and houses to create new spaces? Especially with his commitment to build 50,000 homes a year. These can only be built if greenspaces in London are destroyed. It is highly dishonest to claim other wise.

Make London’s streets safer by:

Every mayoral candidate always claims they'll cut crime and tackle the causes. They always claim they'll put more bobbies on the beat. Then they get elected and nothing happens. Under Boris, we've seen a massive scaling back of community engagement. If Zac thinks Boris is wrong to do this, say so and explain how to reverse his policies.

All paid for without increasing Mayoral council tax.

This is the one commitment I 100% expect Goldsmith to keep. London can burn so long as the rich pay no more tax. That is why he wants to become Mayor. But I do expect all sorts of other, indirect taxes to go up. Tube fairs, congestion charge, parking costs. Zac like every other politician has to balance the books. Like every other politician, he is dishonest in how he'll do it.

And so we move on to Sadiq Khan. He has put a fair bit more detail into what he plans. Like Goldsmith, much of it is deeply unexciting. I suspect that both think "London is tired of big characters". I suspect both are wrong in this view. London is the Capital of the world and needs a larger than life Mayor. So what does Sadiq say?

Here are his themes.

Too many people in our city don’t have a job, or get paid less than they need to survive. With my programme for business and the economy I will change that.

  • Create a Business Advisory Board – made up of experts, not of political allies – to provide me with guidance and insight to find the solutions to London’s growth challenges and to feedback on my policy.
  • Involve business in decision making on key issues of policy and planning, from skills and housing costs, to transport infrastructure and business space.
  • Establish Skills for Londoners, working with business to ensure Londoners have the skills they need to grow.

Too many Londoners can’t afford to buy their own home or are trapped paying extortionate rents to sub-standard landlords. My plan for housing will change that.

  • Homes for first-time buyers to ‘part-buy part-rent’, where on mayoral and other public land my aim is to cut their cost and give first dibs to Londoners who have been stuck renting for over five years – especially in outer London where the biggest falls in homeownership have been seen.
  • Homes to buy where we can give Londoners first dibs – building on brownfield public land and using the Mayor’s planning powers to their fullest extent.
Too many people are the victims of crime and don’t feel safe in their communities. My policies for crime and policing, and my six point plan to tackle knife crime will change that.

  • Ensure that the restoration of real neighbourhood policing is the top priority for the Met, maintaining the role of officers as a visible local presence, helping to prevent and detect crime, and as the local eyes and ears our security services need to identify the spread of extremism at its roots.
  • Commit to tackling violence against women and girls, including prioritising a greater police presence on public transport at key times to clamp down on sexual assault,  zero tolerance of domestic and sexual violence and work closely with public sector and voluntary organisations on developing better support for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
  • Develop a cyber security strategy, led by the Chief Digital Officer I will appoint, working with the police and security services to ensure Londoners and businesses have the information and resources they need to stay safe online.
  • Undertake a full review of the resources required by the London Fire Brigade, with the aim of ensuring the service is fully equipped for the challenges ahead, not only for dealing with and preventing fires but also coping with major civil contingencies such as a terrorist attack or a flood. We need to look at both frontline and control room functions, and consider the impact and effectiveness of outsourcing.
  • Support the police to do their job efficiently and effectively, and make best use of officers’ time so that they can spend more time on the front line. I will invest in new technology that enables officers to access the information and data they need at their fingertips, and to record reports and witness statements speedily without officers having to return to a police station.

Too many workers in London have to go to work on overcrowded, delayed, dirty transport. My plans for transport will change that.

  • Get Crossrail 2 off the ground, using my experience as a Minister responsible for the original Crossrail to secure the funding package, and ensure the route enables the building of thousands of new homes.
  • Plan the next major infrastructure projects for the long term – such as a potential Crossrail 3, new orbital links for outer London, DLR and tram extensions, and new river crossings for East London - while exploring additional sources of funding for major projects.
  • Work to secure the proposed Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham and beyond.
  • Freeze all TfL fares and charges for the Mayor’s cycle hire scheme for four years.
  • Introduce 'The Hopper’ – a new one hour bus ticket allowing unlimited changes within an hour, so that a £1.50 single ticket pays for a full journey.
  • Continue to support both Oyster and contactless payment card methods and ensure fare structures remain equal so that nobody is disadvantaged by choosing either payment method.
  • Guarantee the Freedom Pass and the over-60s Oyster card, along with all other existing concessionary fares schemes.
For too long Londoners have had a Tory Mayor who has been little more than a figurehead, or chief ribbon-cutter. Some of it has been fun – but it is not good enough for our city.

Our analysis.

Jobs & Business

 I'm not really sure that a "business advisory board" is the way to go. It seems that politicians who have never run a business always believe that the way to resolve the problems of business is to set up a quango. I've run a small business for 37 years and like to think I'm fairy good at it. We employ people and generate prosperity. There are plenty of simple measures that qould stimulate business. Making councils have a business friendly parking policies, compelling councils to give business a say on how business rates are spent. I'd like to see businesses given tax breaks for employing young people in sustainable jobs. The "Skills for London" idea sounds interesting, but it is vital that this includes input from small business. I'd like to see support for young entrepreneurs. TV shows such as dragons den have spurred interest in launching your own ideas, but it is noticable just how little most of the people with great ideas know about business. I hope this is an element of Sadiqs plans.


Again I am not overly impressed by the schemes. Part buy/ part rent schemes are all very well, but they simply ignore the problem that we don't have enough housing stock for ordinary people. We are obsessed with letting people buy houses. We should be obsessed with making sure people have decent places to live that are affordable. This means council housing at cheap rents for people on low income. It should also mean decent homes. I am truly astonished that Sadiq has failed to mention this. At least the Goldsmith plan recognises that renting is a big part of the solution. A Labour Mayor should be unafraid to speak up for council housing. This is Khan's biggest fail.

Policing and public safety

Unlike Goldsmiths schemes, there are well thought out and targettted. I'd give Khan 10/10 for this section. The section on sexual crime is long overdue and Khan is 100% right to make this a manifesto pledge. Two years ago I was speaking with Tory Battersea MP Jane Ellison and she told me that this was one area that has been sadly neglected and needed serious work. I expected to see Zac Goldsmith say something about it. I am surprised he's missed it. I hope Jane will support Sadiq in this if he wins.


Khan seems to have a more coherent long term view than Goldsmith. I do agree with Goldsmith that it is stupid to commit to a fares freeze. I reconise that fares have got hellishly expensive under Boris, but this could tie his hands and scupper his plans.


In summary I will be supporting Sadiq Khan. I am not a Labour activist and I am not a party member. I just happen to think that his plans are more coherent. I also think that Goldsmith has done himself no credit at all with his highly personal attacks on Khan. This is a trademark of the Lynton Crosby style of electioneering. Sadiq Khan is not a Muslim extremist and does not support Islamic extremists. To pretend otherwise is dishonest and unfair. There are many things which I would wish to see as qualities as the new Mayor, but ultimately I really don't want a man who tells lies and promotes outrageous smears about his opponent. London is a city with all manner of creeds and colours. Sadiq Khan strikes me as a man who can worl with all of them. Zac Goldsmith strikes me as a man who simply follows what his campaign manager tells him. He is a lightweight  with a lightweight plan. His campaign seems to be banking on scaring people into thinking Khan is in some way dodgy. For that reason alone, I hope London soundly rejects him. 

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