John Moss is a Waltham Forest Councillor and Deputy Chairman Political for Chingford and Woodford Green. He stood for the City and East seat in the 2012 London Assembly election and for Hackney South and Shoreditch in the 2005 General Election.
It is a simple fact of the voting system that the next Mayor of London will be either the Conservative or Labour candidate – and, as Londoners have got used to having a Mayor, they are increasingly looking at track record and competence, not celebrity.
In the previous elections, London had well-known names to choose from, notably Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. That is not going to be the case this time. All the Labour candidates are political insiders. Tessa Jowell’s connection with the Olympics is fading and Diane Abbott benefits from exposure to perhaps 500,000 viewers, every Thursday at 11.30pm, after Question Time. The others have little name recognition outside their own parliamentary or specialist constituencies.
Of the Conservatives, no candidate has significant name recognition amongst ordinary voters in all parts of London. But whoever is chosen will have a major public profile because they are the Conservative candidate. That’s when track record and competence will become important. Stephen Greenhalgh has that track record, both in terms of beating Labour and in delivering on the election’s most important policy area: housing.
In 2006, Stephen led the Conservatives to victory in Hammersmith and Fulham, and beat Labour again in 2010. He improved council services, paid for extra police to cut crime, yet still cut Council Tax in five out of the six years he was responsible for setting it. Hammersmith and Fulham residents now pay the third lowest Council Tax in London after Westminster and Wandsworth. He also brought council housing back under the control of the borough, scrapping Labour’s ALMO structure, and he took on the huge challenge of driving forward the redevelopment of the area around Earls Court.
Earls Court was a poor exhibition venue. I know – I wrote the brief for London’s newest exhibition space, Excel, when I worked for the London Docklands Development Corporation, and every exhibition business we spoke to hated Earls Court. Ever since Excel opened, Earls Court has been going downhill.
In 2007, Stephen asked me to advise him on the redevelopment deal that was being put together between the council, Transport for London and Capital & Counties Properties. I saw how hard it was going to be as Labour threw everything at the project to stop it. It would have been easy for Stephen to throw in the towel and stick with 800 or so council homes on a run-down estate. But he didn’t take the easy option. He took the right decision, which was to secure the redevelopment of poorly built, expensive to heat homes which would have needed millions to be spent on them just to keep them as they were.
Contrary to Labour’s scare-mongering, every single social home will be replaced, most tenants will only have to move once and all will stay within the immediate area. There will be about the same again number of new affordable homes and in total the scheme will deliver almost 7,000 new homes for London. Stephen basically did a Housing Zone before Boris even thought of them.
At the same time, Stephen and I wrote a pamphlet about how we needed to look again at how we do housing welfare. His insights into how the system traps people in dependency and his passion to change that was translated in to real action after the 2010 General Election. Having retained control in Hammersmith and Fulham, he set about using the new freedoms granted by Eric Pickles to build low-cost homes for sale on infill plots on council estates, mirroring Wandsworth’s successful “hidden homes” programme.
Boris called Stephen on the day of his re-election in 2012 to appoint him as his Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. In the last four years, Stephen has re-shaped the Metropolitan Police with fewer senior officers but more PCs and Sergeants patrolling the streets. Redundant police stations have been sold off – often controversially – but his argument that an officer in a police station isn’t preventing crime is borne out by a continued fall in victim-based crime.
Finally, Stephen knows how to use the City Hall machine and to work constructively with the boroughs to deliver real change. The key to building more homes in London is better use of public land. In Hammersmith and Fulham, Stephen sold off over £100 million worth of council property, which delivered hundreds of new homes. In his current role he has taken the police out of buildings and put them on the streets, releasing property which is delivering thousands of homes. Along the way, this approach raised £1 billion to reinvest in policing. If elected Mayor, Stephen will take the same approach with Transport for London and has pledged to sell 1,000 acres of surplus land in his first term. That’s enough for 50,000 new homes.
I regard two of the other Conservative candidates for the mayoralty, Andrew Boff and Syed Kamall, as personal friends and it is hard to set that aside, but none of his competitors can match Stephen’s experience and track record. He knows how to beat Labour, he has the courage to take the tough decisions that will be needed to start to solve London’s housing crisis and he has the vision to move our city forward as a place for people to live, work and build a future for themselves and their families. He should be the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London.