After a series on individual policy announcements today saw the publication of Zac Goldsmith’s Zac_Manifesto for Mayor of London. It is a substantial, detailed prospectus – amounting to 89 pages.
A naturally shy man Goldsmith has grown in confidence during the campaign. At the launch in Wandsworth this morning he told some rather good jokes:
“I’m the son of a grocer. Well, he sold Bovril and marmite and biscuits. Quite a lot of it. That’s not going to work. But let me talk about my record…”
“Unlike my Labour rival whose interest in the environment is about as authentic as Donald Trump’s hair – I have devoted my life to green causes.”
There has been criticism for the Goldsmith campaign being too negative. But there has been much to be negative about – indeed warning of the consequences of his rival is a duty.
The Goldsmith campaign has certainly highlighted Sadiq Khan extremist links and his decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader. Khan’s response has not been convincing. He has said that the criticism is anti Muslims - isn’t such a conflation insulting to those Muslims with moderate views? So far as Corbyn is concerned Khan points out that although he nominated Corbyn he voted for Andy Burnham. Many would conclude that makes his judgment all the more erratic.
In fact I think Khan’s should be challenged rather more. For instance he often talks about having “set up a business”. What he appears to refer to is a legal aid firm he set up with Louise Christian a hardline left winger who once stood for the Socialist Alliance.
As Zac said this morning:
“My rival would be the Mayor whose career involved coaching people how to sue our police.
“A man who has given platforms, oxygen and even cover –over and over and over again – to those who seek to do our police and capital harm.
“A man who has tried to silence questions about his links by shamelessly accusing anyone who raises them of being islamophobic.”
Yet the serious work undertaken by the Goldsmith campaign on policy means there is also a positive message for the election for anyone interested in it – even if the media generally regard it as too worthy to be of interest to them.
The headline announcement today was about the new jobs that would be made possible under Mayor Goldsmith – due to, among other things, increasing the number of new homes.
“I’m determined that all Londoners should enjoy our City’s success which is why I will freeze mayoral council tax and create jobs.
“Under Boris we have recovered from Labour’s Great Recession, and my Action Plan for Greater London will build on that success and secure half a million more jobs for Londoners.
“You can only deal with transport congestion, build houses and improve London if you keep the economy strong. That’s why the Khan-Corbyn experiment, with the promise of council tax hikes and a £1.9 billion black hole, would be so damaging for London.”
In his introduction Boris Johnson said:
“London is an economic beacon for the whole country and the Mayor’s job doesn’t add up to a can of beans unless they can keep the economy strong.
“We need a Mayor who will invest in transport, invest in skills and stand up for business. None of the problems London faces can be solved if businesses don’t succeed and our economy doesn’t grow.
“In the Labour Party of Corbyn and Khan, who want to abolish the City of London, take over the Bank of England and raise taxes, London’s businesses face their most serious threat.
“Zac Goldsmith is the man standing in the way of this dangerous divisive Corbyn/Khan ideological experiment, an experiment that threatens business, and with it the very jobs and growth essential to London’s future prosperity.”
So a great spirit of comradeship. But the most important policy from Zac is one where he disagrees with Boris. Everyone is in favour of the general idea of more housing. But people don’t want ugly housing in their backyard. Zac understands that for new housing to become a reality it needs to be beautiful. For instance that is how to win consent for the redevelopment of council estates – lower rise, higher density, more attractive with a return to traditional architecture. This has had little attention but it would mean a big change in City Hall – and one that would be highly beneficial.
Zac’s manifesto said:
“As the organisation Create Streets has argued, the complex planning system in London has created ugly blocks designed by committee rather than the human-scale streets for which there is greater popular demand. New Victorian terraced houses and red-brick Edwardian apartment blocks are difficult to build under modern planning law – even though these are not only popular but extremely high density, providing up to 75 per cent more homes than the poorly-spaced concrete tower blocks which dominate so much of London.
“For example, the London Plan requirement that every single home has 5m2 of private outdoor space has led to tiny flats having tiny balconies – when instead a developer could have made that flat bigger and put a garden square in the centre of the development instead. Rules regarding ‘over-looking’ – how close a window is to a street or another building – are broken by existing terraced homes to no complaint from city dwellers but are seen as cast iron requirements for new build boxes. The collective impact of many of these small and well-intentioned rules is that London is seeing less of the homes Londoners actually want to live in.
“So, as Mayor, I will challenge the raft of planning rules which prevent us building what we want and what we need. I will run a competition for a set of ‘New Homes for London’, consulting widely with Londoners to determine which housing styles are most popular. I will then work with Government and local councils to remove unnecessary restrictions on these types of homes. In particular, I will ask London’s top architects to help create a modern Edwardian red-brick block – an extremely popular type of mid-rise home which could be re-engineered for the modern age.”
Most Londoners may not realise it but how they vote on May 5th will make a big difference to what London will look like in the decades to come.