16 June 2015
Speaking at the Labour #LondonMayor hustings in Westminster were:
- Labour MP Sadiq Khan
- Former Labour MP Tessa Jowell
- Labour MP Diane Abbott
- Labour MP Gareth Thomas
- Journalist and transport commentator Christian Wolmar
- Labour MP David Lammy
The event, which was hosted by Prospect, the Centre for London and the New West End Company, was chaired by Prospect Associate Editor Phil Collins.
Opening proceedings, Mr Collins asked the candidates for a short statement.
Ms Abbott argued that London’s city leadership was remembered for being brave. That may lead to offence, she acknowledged, and she said that while not among the most well-resourced candidate insisted she had a strong vision for the city.
Ms Jowell said that for too many the future was for others not for them, and pointed to child poverty and those earning below the minimum wage as an example. She also raised concern about the costs of office space for new businesses.
Labour had not won an election in London for 11 years, she said, and she had a plan for London. She would build homes, achieve more affordable transport. Further, she cited the Olympics and the development of Sure Start as evidence of her ability to deliver on her commitments.
Mr Khan cited aspiration as a key part of the vision for London, and highlighted his family ad evidence. However, he said that many Londoners were not able to fulfil their potential, raising concern about homes, decent jobs and security.
He emphasised the importance of winning for a purpose.
Mr Lammy cited his personal history, and said that opportunities were vanishing. He cited high levels of child poverty and youth unemployment, and argued that it was becoming a “majority, minority city”.
He said he would deliver free childcare, help night workers and build on the work done so far.
Mr Thomas said more power should be devolved to London and Londoners. Britain was becoming federal, he said, and as the “economic” powerhouse of the UK it should be able to tackle the problems it faced.
Redistribution of wealth across the UK was important. Easing of property taxes and lending. Powers to control the minimum wage and other such measures would be important.
Supporting a new runway in Heathrow and Gatwick, he pledged to cut transport costs in the capital.
Mr Wolmar said he had campaigned on transport, the key role of the Mayor. His engagement with the grassroots had helped him develop a strategy to tackle inequality.
A Wolmar mayoralty would see a new supply of social housing, luxury developments stopped and a flattening out of tube and bus fares.
He argued that Labour won “when it was a broad church”, and needed to reach out to the green vote. He said he would introduce a vision zero for road deaths, pedestrianise Oxford Street, oppose a new runway and make public transport less polluting.
Mr Collins asked for views on the mansion tax. Mr Lammy said he opposed the tax, and that this would be better achieved by looking at the top council tax bands.
This would bring money back into London and allow more building, he said. This would give money to councils rather than the Treasury.
Ms Jowell said the properties affected were not mansions, especially in her area. She agreed on higher bands of property taxes, but said it created mistrust as people felt the band for the mansion tax could move.
The mansion tax been “emblematically disastrous” though “well-intentioned”, she said, adding that the failure to explain the policy was a problem.
Following, Ms Abbott said many seemed to change their view after the election. She noted that the high increase in property prices in London had been meteoric, even in poor areas, and would cause issues.
She said those suggesting it did not understand London, and supported an increase in the tax band for council tax.
Mr Khan emphasised that “those with the broadest shoulders carry the greatest burden” and said the mansion tax was important for the party’s credibility.
However, the issue was that London lost its revenues and said that London should be doing more. He called for an additional band in council tax.
Mr Thomas argued economic credibility and the perception of Miliband was the issue rather than the mansion tax. He called for more powers, and suggested taxing undeveloped land as in Paris.
Mr Wolmar said raising tax on the rich was important but difficult from property tax. He said the problem with the council tax was not calling for a revaluation, and sent money from local government to the NHS.
He called instead for a land value tax rather than a mansion tax, but said this was unlikely to happen.
Mr Collins noted this had also been suggested by Mr Burnham. He went on to ask about the cost of rental housing, and asked how this would be achieved and also asked how additional houses would be delivered, if this was the plan.
Mr Khan said the supply of new homes needed to increase. He said he would take charge with a new homes team in City Hall, setting a target of 50 per cent of homes in London would need to be affordable, with some partial ownership.
He also suggested he would work with developers and local authorities on this issue. Mr Khan felt that the quantity of land in public ownership that could be developed.
Taking the example of places like Islington and Hackney with a not-for-profit rental agency, so that a landlord was comforted about upkeep and tenants had a more stable pricing for housing.
He promised to create a London living rent to enable people to save up to buy homes.
Mr Lammy noted that he had already launched a report on this issue. He said it was important to build in the right place. Brownfield sites would not be enough, he said, and would require “building up”.
Mr Lammy said the tower block system could not be done, and instead suggested a review of greenbelt land to identify potential sites in outer London.
He attacked the baby boomers for disadvantaging the young, noting a lack of homes sized for families and that these were better built in outer London.
He criticised Mr Khan’s plan for a lack of financing, and said a new vehicle in the bond market would be used to facilitate construction.
Right to Buy was a rip-off, he said, as it short changed the taxpayer by subsidising houses.
Ms Abbott said the question was not about building more but building homes that average Londoners could afford. This was ignored and the London housing market was broken, she argued.
It was distorted by non-dom buyers and foreigners in the centre, she said, often keeping it as investment and causing ripples that made areas progressively less affordable.
She said she would call on Chancellor George Osborne to introduce fiscal levies.
Ms Abbott praised the bond idea, but warned about developer led housing developments. The Olympic Park was cited as evidence of the failure of this, as homes on it has been largely bought by Qataris.
She would build public housing, using direct funding and public land, working with councils and rent stabilisation.
Finally, she argued landlords needed to be licenses. She noted the scheme to enforce in Newham and said a London-wide scheme of licensing enforcement was needed.
Market and developer-led solutions alone would not work with ordinary Londoners, she said.
Ms Jowell said that the Olympic Park housing had been sold at a profit, with many houses managed by a housing association.
She noted the importance of maintaining the proportion of affordable homes in the village.
Ms Jowell pledged to create Homes for Londoners, a dedicated agency to build homes and beginning by building on land the Mayor owned.
The best people in the world would be sourced, she said, and this was a challenge to deliver.
Therefore a dedicated agency and a realistic estimate of the number of affordable homes that could be delivered was needed, Ms Jowell said.
She said the Mayor was building half the homes said in the London Plan.
Mr Wolmar said the agency had been his idea originally, adding he would do something similar.
However, he said that the problem was about some boroughs not wanting more houses.
These were often the ones with the most land, he added.
Working with the willing, he said, he would use money the Mayor had and that the developers had.
However, he said developers could not be relied upon for construction and local authorities needed to build using their capital allowance.
Mr Thomas raised concerns about the Right to Buy, and noted that there was expected to be an increase.
He stressed the need for honesty and the current set of powers meant little could be done.
The key was additional powers, Mr Thomas said.
A mayoral housing company was the answer, he said, modelled on what had been done in Sheffield and able to attract private finance through bonds and the city.
He said a rising level of affordable homes in developers would be needed with slow increases.
Following, he said rents needed to be controlled, but this could only be achieved with devolution.
All of the candidates registered opposition to building on greenbelt land, other than Mr Lammy.
Ms Jowell also raised concerns about “Buy to Leave”. Mr Lammy suggested a London value tax for housing left empty and not let.
Mr Khan said that developers needed to be forced to prioritise local buyers first rather than advertising overseas first.
A member of the audience said it was difficult for young people to rent properties, and asked what would be done. Another individual raised concern about the purchase of homes anonymous purchase and ownership of property through holdings, and was used to launder money.
Following, someone asked about building a digital skills infrastructure.
Mr Wolmar said the Government would not give rent control, but suggested building housing for rental in a ringfenced way could be effective. He said he had discussed this with Generation Rent.
He also said that he would tackle rogue landlords and help local authorities crack down on them.
Mr Lammy said nothing could be done on anonymous ownership by the Mayor, but said he would campaign on the issue. He noted he had been the first to call for rent caps.
He then called for a target from Ms Jowell, to which she answered sharply that a specific target could be developed with more information.
She emphasised building on brownfield land, transport links to amenities, higher quality accommodation for rent needed.
Mr Wolmar said the numbers game was “unedifying” given the lack of focus on affordability.
Mr Thomas said he would not support building on greenbelt and did not see a binary choice. He argued there was a need to build higher.
He pushed again for rent control, and said more powers needed to be sought.
Mr Khan argued there was a “lack of ambition”, and said the London Plan would be changed with a supplementary planning guidance with homes for young buyers, first-time, and many others mixed ownership.
He noted concerns among employers that people could not afford to stay in London.
Ms Abbott said building on the greenbelt would not solve the problem. She pointed instead to rent control and landlord licensing.
She noted she had purchased her first house with a mortgage from a council, and said that supported should be targeted to key groups.
Ms Abbott pointed to the 50 per cent target of affordable homes for developers, emphasising the need for a comprehensive broadband rollout.
She argued for more diversity among technology companies, and for employment policy to move from being contact-based to skills-focused.
Governance of London
Mr Collins asked whether the London Government should get more power for taxes, and called for comparison with the Northern Powerhouse.
Mr Thomas pointed to recommendations from the London Finance Commission, highlighting property taxes as an example.
He expressed dismay the Cities Devolution Bill included nothing new for London, and called on parliamentarians to work to introduce changes.
He asked why Manchester should have more powers, when none where on the table for London. He suggested more powers needed to be devolved.
Ms Jowell said it was important to argue for devolution of powers as set out by the Commission. She highlighted a Manchester-style arrangement and greater power over health to help the elderly.
Devolution to the boroughs would achieve more value for money, she said, with more appropriate solutions.
More powers to call in smaller planning applications would be important, she said, and stop developers sitting on land.
Turning to the rent, she would call for 100 per cent registration of landlords as seen in Newham.
Further powers were needed for the Mayor to tackle child poverty.
Mr Khan said that London getting power powers did not need to be mutually exclusive from other cities.
He said suggested that additional powers could be devolved over infrastructure, school places and business rates.
Skills were another area where the Mayor could be given more powers, Mr Khan said.
Comparing London to other cities, he said more powers were needed for the capital.
Mr Wolmar said he agreed with what had been said and called for London to keep more tax revenues raised within it.
However, he suggested stamp duty would go too far but London could raise more money locally.
A coordinating role for health would be important, he said, as Manchester had, he said, added it would be more difficult in London because of the scale.
He also raised concern about more central concern over schools, and said an important coordinating role could be played.
Turning to the land value tax, that would be good as a way to raise money for business rates.
He also said that innovative scheme to build infrastructure, as had been done from Crossrail and could be done for Crossrail 2.
Ms Abbott said the challenge was for London to keep more of its property tax revenues. She also raised concerns about health, and said London deserved the same power as Manchester as social care was a challenge for local authorities.
Bringing social and health budgets together would be more efficient, she said.
Dealing with the public health challenges would help tackle inequality, he said, and the same powers as Manchester would be advantageous.
Mr Lammy said that devolution needed to come to London as it had to Scotland, but added that this was a process already taking place. The public were using technology innovatively, he said, and more devolution to communities and people would be needed.
Mr Lammy also called for the Mayor to be given the power to pedestrianise streets to create 1,000 “play streets”.
Much more could also be done in devolving for childcare, he said.
Mr Collins asked Mr Khan why more emphasis on devolution had not been in the Labour General Election manifesto. In reply, the Tooting MP argued this was incorrect, and that measures like regional banks and back to work schemes were examples of the proposals.
London Living Wage
Turning to inequality, Mr Collins asked whether the London Living Wage should be mandatory.
Ms Abbott said that ideally yes, but said that contractors and subcontractors would pay it as would bodies including Transport of London (TfL).
Advocacy work was also important as Mayor, Mr Wolmar said, and where it could be promoted it should. He said the minimum wage was insufficient.
Further, he said costs needed to be reduced.
Mr Lammy said that the Mayor had “shaming” power and cited his campaign with football clubs, as well as procurement, but opposed making it mandatory.
Ms Jowell argued that London Living Wage should be higher, and said she would campaign on this. However, she said when employers volunteered it was more efficient, but also planned to use procurement powers incentivise those working with City Hall.
Mr Thomas said that if the Mayor had this power then, after consultation, it should be mandatory. He also highlighted the work of procurement.
However, creating decent jobs was important, he said, and more work with the city and two new runways would be key.
Mr Khan noted the benefits from the London Living Wage. He said the minimum wage needed to be increased to meet the Living Wage and the Mayor should use power and persuasion to achieve this.
Mr Collins asked about airport capacity, and asked Mr Khan whether he would be bound by the final recommendation of the Airports Commission.
While accepting the need to increase flight capacity and benefits for jobs, Mr Khan noted concerns around the environment, pollution and infrastructure.
Bearing in mind the poor quality of air in London, he suggested a new runway at Gatwick and a high speed rail connection with Heathrow would be most appropriate, Mr Khan said.
He wanted to make a better, not bigger Heathrow.
Mr Thomas said this would not be enough, and that the benefits of another Heathrow runway to the economy were huge. He stressed that the Commission had found Heathrow expansion was possible without impacting people living nearby.
He noted the need to therefore also update public transport to reduce the number of cars to each airport.
Heathrow had seen an increase in passenger numbers without an increase in road traffic to it, he said.
He argued people had said that both would be necessary. He said Heathrow should come first, but the decision on Gatwick should also be made now to prevent the UK from being less competitive.
Mr Wolmar noted the issue of climate change, and said this was important. He said the Airports Commission had not looked at the need for more runways properly and criticised its evaluation of the environmental impact.
In 20 years’ time, he said, climate mitigation would be the main consideration, as opposed to aviation capacity.
Even if a new runway was absolutely necessary, he said, Heathrow would still not be the right place to build it. Mr Wolmar added that deciding on a location was not a mayoral function.
Mr Lammy noted that a noise and air pollution regulator would be needed, claiming that London had been losing the race for runway capacity for ages.
However, he criticised Mr Khan for his allegedly reversal of stance on this issue.
Ms Abbott said she had consistently opposed the third runway, and noted political consensus on the issue of air pollution.
Some of the worst pollution was around Heathrow, she said, and there was no way to meet the legal targets to reduce air pollution, if a third runway was built.
She suggested improved transport links could be an idea and something could be done at Gatwick, but not Heathrow.
Ms Jowell said an expansion of airport capacity was needed alongside a public health focus. She added this could be a trigger to tackle to problems of air pollution on Oxford Street and noise around Heathrow.
She was open-minded about the options, but said a decision needed to be taken. The concern was the Airports Commission recommendation would become gridlocked in the Cabinet.
She stressed that indecision was a major concern and the choice of a location could not be deferred forever.
Further, this was a moment for technological advance and new green technology, because existing levels of pollution were bad enough, Ms Howell said.
A representative of the East End Trades Guild asked what would be done to stop the killing off of small businesses in London.
Lambeth Bridge North was on the list for junction improvement, said another audience member, asking what more would be done to make cycling safer.
New West End Director Jace Tyrell asked what would be done to improve quality in the West End.
Following, someone asked about tall buildings across London and how to ensure appropriate construction.
Mr Lammy said that he was concerned that building a generation of tall buildings that would be regretted was a concern. This cut against London’s heritage and skyline, he said, adding that Southwark was an example where tall buildings were damaging the borough.
Labour local authorities were short on money and having to build the buildings to raise revenue, he said.
Mr Khan said he had worked on policy to improve cycling. He noted that working to improve cycling was a key, including improving junctions and cycle lanes.
He said that he wanted to see more trees planted on Oxford Street, and said the Mayor could encourage cycling and walking.
Mr Wolmar said pedestrianising Oxford Street would be central to promoting this aim.
The congestion charge could be doubled on bad air quality days, he said.
Mr Wolmar said he would be a “cycling Mayor”; pledging to implement a 20 mile per hour zone in London, a reduction in lorries on the roads in peak time, a vision for zero road deaths and further work on cycling superhighways.
He would also keep Andrew Gilligan as Cycling Commissioner and scrap the Garden Bridge.
Mr Wolmar said he could win this election as he knew how to attract people across the political spectrum, and that his team were politically diverse.
Insisting he could attract young people, Mr Wolmar said the election could not be won through appealing to the normal constituency.
In addition, he said an agenda with environmental issues needed to be included.
Mr Thomas said that his electoral track record was strong. He said devolution to London was central to his plan, including a referendum on this issue.
More devolution to Londoners would come alongside a ten per cent cut to tube fares, more say in the decisions made by TfL and a new deputy mayor for skills.
Mr Lammy argued he had been effective in the aftermath of the London riots, working on apprentices and campaigning for limits on A&E waiting times.
He said he had a plan for housing, had been clear on where that would come from and could galvanise London.
Mr Khan cited his tough track record against employers and the police as a lawyer, and his ability to encourage people to vote Labour.
By working together, they could help London’s future, he said, claiming he knew what it took to win.
Ms Jowell said she stood down from the House of Commons, but had never stopped campaigning and building alliances.
The Hackney MP cited challenges facing London, and noted the agreement of the nature of the challenges being faced.
She noted that she had also worked to support the tech sector and young people that day.
Ms Abbott noted that she had become an MP “against all the odds”, and whether it was easy or hard she would speak up on issues like deregulation of betting, Iraq or a third Heathrow runway.
She emphasised that delivery was about the right team, vision and principles, and if she was a candidate for Mayor the contest would be electrifying and Labour would win.
Madhav Bakshi is a Political Analyst within DeHavilland’s Editorial Team and leads on Energy policy. He is a graduate of King’s College London, where he studied International Politics.