Tuesday 7 May 2024

How Susan Hall could have beaten Sadiq Khan in the Mayoral Election

 I had some lively debates over the weekend. Because I write this blog and a few people read it, some people seem to think I know what I am talking about. Back on the 23rd October, when Susan Hall was first selected to fight Sadiq Khan, I wrote this.

My advice to the Tories would be to get Hall to stand down as a matter of urgency and get a big hitter in to do the job. If they had someone who at least appeared competent and didn't play dog whistle politics, they'd have a chance. If they don't, they deserve to lose. As for Labour, Khan is the incumbent. If the Tories stick with Hall, we've got another four years of him. 

From the moment I wrote that, nothing changed my mind as to the absolute inevitability of a Sadiq Khan win. Whilst it was spot on in it's prediction, I don't think you had to be a genius to get this particular shout right. 

A lot of people in the Borough of Barnet have expressed their absolute shock that Hall lost, on Facebook, Twitter etc. Some suggested that there was electoral fraud or other shenanigans. It was clear to me that this is the danger of living in an echo chamber, only talking to like minded people. I do my best to talk to people across the spectrum and I realised that there was a very distinctive type of person who loved Susan Hall. Generally, they are in many ways like me. They are white, over 55, own a car that is not particularly green, don't pay for public transport and they own a house. Where maybe they differ, is that they don't sit all day in the reception of a music studio, talking to people who none of those things apply to. I can't say I met anyone, apart from Labour activists, who were particularly excited by four more years of Mayor Khan, but just about everyone who the above didn't apply to seemed horrified by the prospect of Susan Hall winning.

Shortly after I wrote those words, I was chatting to one of our more sensible local Tories. I will spare his blushes and not name him, but he had drawn the same conclusion as I had. We had a fascinating conversation about Ms Hall's prospects. He posed me a question "Do you think it would be possible to make Susan electable?". That was actually an excellent question as a palour game. My initial response was "No, she's useless". When I got home, I thought about it and realised that I was wrong. I started to write a blog. I began with the premise that she'd offer me a million quid a year to do it, I could come up with a strategy if she gave me total control of her campaign. As it would never happen, it was a good starting place for what initially started as a humourous look at what she was doing wrong and what I'd tell her. As I thought about it, I decided that it was actually very easy money and was amazed that a party like the Tories hadn't twigged themselves. Had her advisers all had lobotomies?

So what policies may have changed Susan Hall's fate. Lets pretend that what we really care about is attractive policies. Where could Hall have found the quarter of a million votes that she was short? That's where I'd start.

1. The housing crisis. The Tories are facing an existensial crisis. Almost no one over 40 has any faith in them. Whereas aspirational young adults used to see the Tories as the gateway to a more prosperous future, buy your own house etc, they've had fourteen years of being dumped on. In London, you can have a decent job, but housing will still be completely unaffordable. Whilst there are people in terrible dire straights in terms of housing, they will never vote Tory, so you can rule them out. What we do have a lot of are well educated, working people, who are forced out of London by the price of housing. If I was advising Susan Hall, I'd have told her to set up a London housing board, to address the affordability of homes in London for working people, especially those in the key roles that keep our city working. NHS, Teachers, Transport workers, etc. If all developments of over 6 units had to give 25% of the space to the Mayors advisory board on long term low cost leases, which could then be relet to such key workers, giving them cheap, good quality, secure accomodation, this would make Hall's bid far more attractive to under 40's. The scheme would address a real need, without any cost. Planning rules should allow no space for bargaining and the cheaper social housing elements should be the first to be delivered. There are a vast number of working people in key jobs who this would benefit.

2. Policing. Lets be quite clear about this. Neither Sadiq Khan or Susan Hall came up with any credible proposals to end the awful plague of knife crime in London. I'd have advised Susan Hall to bring in someone such as campaigner Mark Prince as a knife crime Tsar. Someone who can bridge the divide and who knows the subject and is respected in the communities that are most affected. I genuinely think that if Hall had come up with a credible strategy, she'd have brought a lot of people to her campaign. I also think if she'd gotten serious about anti social behaviour, she'd have been on a winner. 

3. ULEZ. This was her big policy. The trouble was, everyone knew she was closing the stable door after the horse had bolted. It's been in a year and nearly everyone with a polluting car has got rid of it. She'd have been far better advised to come up with some credible policies to ensure that Transport worked better in London. I heard nothing from Hall about dealing with real transport problems.

4. Overdevelopment. The problem here was that the Tories were facing in different directions at the same time. They were talking about building more homes, but at the same time opposing all of Sadiq Khans plans for big developments. If you play fast and loose with voters, they simply don't trust you. The Tories in Barnet passed a huge scheme in Edgware. When they lost control of the Council in 2022, they immediately started opposing it and blaming the Mayor. Any local who knew the history saw through this and had no trust at all in Susan Hall. Sending mixed messages never works.

5. TFL ticketing costs. Again Hall sent mixed messages. She railed against Sadiq Khan's fares freeze. This convinced a lot of people who rely on the Tube and buses for work, that they would be hiked if she won. It may have played well with wealthy retired people, but for ordinary working Londoners, it was a most unwelcome stealth tax. You will never win any votes by hiking up fares. The car mob were already in her pocket. I am no expert, but if Sadiq Khan really is as bad at running TFL as she claimed, surely she could have sorted this out and given us even cheaper fares?

6. London's night time economy. I was convinced that this was a massive open goal for Hall, especially with young London. Sadiq Khan has done nothing to help musicians, theatres, concert venues etc. Hall's natural instinct was to react negatively to anything that young people might enjoy. I found it unfathomable, given how much of London's economy relies on tourism, that neither candidate had anything positive to say about concrete support for the sector. I genuinely believe that if Hall had come out strongly with support for venues etc, she would have garnered support in areas normally allergic to Tories.

7. Small business. Susan Hall, like me, comes from a family steeped in small business and the motor trade. There are over a million small businesses operating in London. It should be sobering for Susan Hall and the Tories to realise that this total would have won her the election. The fact that she made no pitch at all for the small business vote was truly bizarre, this should be viewed as fertile ground for Tory policies. The sad thing is that I saw nothing from either candidate that would help my business. I know plenty of other businesses who said the same thing. What practical changes can a Mayor make? It's not fashionable, but workable high street parking policies is a good place to start. Rates relief helps the bottom line. Listening to hyper local concerns and fixing problems would also help. An example? In Mill Hill, we have many shops, former banks, etc lying derelic and creating an air of neglect on the High Street. This puts off prospective businesses from coming to Mill Hill. I've long believed that the Mayor should have a scheme to encourage Landlords to let the properties on short term deals to young people starting businesses. If they were given a break from business rates for a year, this would give them a chance to find their feet. By the same token, Landlords that simply sit on rotting, empty shops, should face quadruple business rates as an incentive to let the property.  

As I do, when I write blogs, I tend to get quite excited. I realised that there was a huge opportunity. If politicians put ideology to one side and try and make a practical difference, where they can, there are huge opportunities. Had Susan Hall campaigned on these issues, I defy anyone to tell me she wouldn't have done far better. I thought the better of publishing the blog. I doubted that Susan Hall and the Tories would take it up, but I did worry that people would mistake my proposals for what she actually was doing and I couldn't possibly bear the thought of people mistaking my ideas for real policies. 

There was an excellent article in the Times on Saturday by Matthew Parris. To paraphrase him, the gist of his article was that the Tories are currently full of swivel eyed looneys with no experience of life, obsessed with right wing policies, rather than good governence and effective running of the country. I couldn't disagree. I have to wonder if Susan Hall ever sat down and said "Right team, how are we going to make the numbers up to beat Khan?" or whether they just sat around thinking of ways to appeal to the other right wing looneys sitting around the table?

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