A Mayor Fayre
Thursday May 5 2016 will (hopefully) see Londoners flocking to their local polling stations to vote for the next London Mayor.Whoever succeeds Boris Johnson will have some large shoes to fill, particularly after the success of the 2012 Olympics and the legacy that are “Boris bikes”.
The question is: who is actually running and what do they stand for? Whilst there are 12 candidates in total I have picked a selection to provide a snapshot of what the Conservative, Labour, Green and Lib Dem candidates are proposing.
Zac Goldsmith, Conservative
Goldsmith starts by addressing one of the big issues on every Londoner's mind – housing. He pledges to increase residential building whilst ensuring that a significant proportion of new homes are only for rent and not sale. Whilst more homes to rent should mean more availability and subsequent lower rents, this will not necessarily take the current heat out of the housing market in the same way as if all these new builds could be purchased.
Goldsmith also intends to improve transport, which I'm sure any users of the tube at rush hour will welcome. For example, Goldsmith intends to bring suburban rail services under the Mayor's control in an attempt to increase and improve the service. He also plans to ensure that the much-anticipated night tube goes ahead despite setbacks and strike action against the proposals.
This improvement to London's transport infrastructure will be key if he keeps his pledge to build 50,000 new homes per year by 2020. Goldsmith intends to build these new homes whilst also protecting the green belt from development and creating more green spaces. It's not yet clear how he intends to increase both housing and green space and therefore it will be interesting to see how he reconciles these policies if elected.
Goldsmith further intends to improve the safety of London's streets by putting more police on public transport at night, keeping neighbourhood police teams on the street and tackling the grass roots of crime.
What is really intriguing is Goldsmith's promise to do all this without increasing Mayoral council tax. Whilst no increase in tax will be music to the ears of many Londoners, practically it is not clear how this will work. It begs the question of where the money is going to come from to pay for all this. Have previous mayors been profligate and wasteful? Or are there going to be areas where spending is cut? It would be useful to have the transparency of where any cuts will be before voting for the new Mayor.
Sadiq Khan, Labour
Khan may have begun with humble roots but he has subsequently risen high. On his manifesto website he states: “I want all Londoners to have the same opportunities that our city gave me: a home they can afford, a high-skilled job with decent pay, an affordable and modern transport system and a safe, clean and healthy environment.” This all sounds very appealing, but is it achievable?
Khan wants to restore opportunity, which is something which will resonate with many Londoners. Why shouldn't social mobility be possible as well as desirable? Why shouldn't first time buyers actually be able to afford to buy a home?
Like Goldsmith, Khan also pledges to build more homes, this time with a focus on affordable homes. Khan also intends to reduce homelessness, particularly for young people. He intends to tackle these problems at the grassroots by helping young people into work and increasing services such as family mediation. This is in addition to the age-spanning "No Nights Sleeping Rough" initiative to implement a taskforce to oversee rough sleeping work and funding priorities.
Similarly, Khan also promises to make sure that our transport services improve whilst remaining affordable. For example, Khan plans to introduce "The Hopper" ticket whereby a single ticket will allow multiple bus journeys to be made within an hour. Khan also promises to deliver the night tube and reduce the number of days lost to strike action through more open negotiations with TfL representatives. Khan also believes that there is huge inefficiency within TfL - just last year alone £383 million was spent on consultants and agency staff. Khan believes that through greater efficiency money can be saved to improve the TfL service without passing on any greater cost to customers.
An interesting policy within those of an environmental nature is a plan to pedestrianise Oxford Street. This promise is also shared with Zac Goldsmith. Whilst many would welcome not having to wait ages to cross the road whilst shopping, opponents argue this is a totally impractical proposal. Oxford Street is a major transport hub; huge numbers of buses and cars pass through Oxford Street every hour, let alone every day. The question is what impact would pedestrianising Oxford Street have on traffic throughout the rest of London and on London bus routes?
Khan intends to do all of this whilst keeping council tax as low as possible, although does not commit to sticking to current levels.
Sian Berry, Green
Unsurprisingly, being the Green candidate, a number of Berry's promises relate to a greener London. She proposes Crossrail being powered by green energy and pledges to cut air pollution to bring it within legal limits by 2020 at the latest. In a similar vein, Berry opposes any new runways being built at Heathrow or Gatwick and intends to close City Airport in favour of turning it into an area for homes and businesses. Whilst this is obviously very green, it could have knock on economic effects with fewer flights and therefore fewer people entering and exiting the country.
A good number of Berry's promises focus around community and affordability. For example she proposes a community homes unit, London renters and Student Living Rent. A Student Living Rent will certainly be welcomed by many students who often find living in London financially crippling. In an NUS survey it was found that the average student rent in London is currently £226 per week, more than double the proposed Student Living Rent figure of £110 calculated by London Young Greens. The Student Living Rent has been calculated on the basis of the maximum student loan plus typical income from 6 hours paid employment per week divided by a typical 40 weeks of tenancy.
Like Goldsmith and Khan, Berry also promises a shake up of the transport system. She wants to stop extra charges when changing between trains and buses so the position is the same as when you change between two tubes (i.e. it's classed as one journey with one fair).
Berry also promises to help smaller shops flourish by placing a levy on large supermarkets and keeping public spaces public and not run by corporates. The Greens want council tax banding to be fully devolved to London, but do not commit themselves to charging current council tax rates.
Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrats
Like the other candidates above, Pidgeon also wishes to tackle transport by making it more affordable and reliable such as through implementing a one-hour bus ticket, part time travelcard and “early-bird” fares. Similarly to Khan and Berry, Pidgeon does not directly promise not to raise council tax.
Pidgeon, like all of the other candidates above, proposes policies to tackle the housing crisis. She wants to turn London's Olympic Precept into a Housing Levy as well as tackle the problem of empty properties. It is not clear how easy it will be to police situations where properties are left empty or what Pidgeon intends to do with said empty properties. However, it is an interesting idea, especially in the context of the current housing climate.
She also tackles the affordability of childcare in the capital and support required for families to remain in London. This is an interesting issue, and one often not given enough consideration by those in power both centrally and in business. Pidgeon champions ideas such as better holiday childcare and also wraparound care whereby young children are looked after before and after school to better align with full time working hours. This is a positive step to try and keep families in London, however, many would argue we should have a London which is less expensive and doesn't require parents to rely so heavily on childcare. Whilst some parents make the decision that they would like to work full time, other parents find that they are required to because of financial pressures. Pidgeon is considering partially funding this through a £2 per night tourist tax on hotel guests intended to raise a £50 million Mayoral fund.
Hot topics are, quite unsurprisingly, housing and transport. Whilst there are different takes and priorities all offer promises of improvement. All of the policies and promises will have a beneficial impact on some of the citizens of London; however, the question remains: who is most likely to keep to their word?