The Fabian Society has published Our London, a collection of essays edited by the Shadow Justice Secretary and Tooting MP, Sadiq Khan.
In the Evening Standard he says:
This is not a pitch for the Mayor and stuff.
Come off it, Mr Khan. Who do you think you’re kidding?
In terms of his own contributions to the pamphlet he starts with an introduction – dripping with nostalgia for the golden age of London in the mid-1970s – which he would evidently like to return to. He writes of his “earliest memories” on top of the 44 bus driven by his father.
He recalls “a warm and safe council home in Wandsworth” and how his father was able to save up enough to “buy his own home” – was this thanks to Margaret Thatcher’s right to buy? He adds: “My siblings and I benefited from the opportunity of a top class state education and were able to go on to university and onto successful careers ourselves.”
However he adds severely:
I often wonder whether my family would have enjoyed the same opportunities if they moved to London today rather than 40 years ago?…
Would my dad have been able to find a stable and secure job had he moved to London today? With almost 500,000 on waiting lists for council homes in London, would my family have been able to get a council home?…
Would I have gone to university and studied law with fees of £9000 a year? Would I have ever been able to afford a home for my family in Tooting?
There are certainly some genuine challenges we face today (incidentally Mr Khan doesn’t have answers to any of them, as I will come on to.) However his “Back to the ’70s” as the age of opportunity is not convincing. Mr Khan was at Ernest Bevin Comprehensive when it was under the remit of the Inner London Education Authority. Was it really “top class”? I suspect it is a much better school today.
Is it really true that more of them went on to university back then? If Mr Khan reads The Guardian he will have seen that this year there is a record number going to university this year – over 400,000 nationally. Of course they are not all doing law. (“If there’s one thing Britain needs it’s more lawyers,” to paraphrase Lionel Hutz.) However the number going to university, for all subjects, is up from about a fifth of school leavers, when Mr Khan went off in 1989, to around a third today.
The rate of home ownership has dipped a bit in the last decade but is still much higher than it was in the 1970s. The challenge is to avoid returning to the 1970s when most Londoners rented.
Mr Khan also provides a chapter on housing. He notes the problem of overcrowding and the housing shortage but proposes measures to make them worse. He wishes to restore the spare room subsidy – thus removing the incentive for those with spare rooms to swap with the overcrowded. He also says he is concerned about rogue landlords – yet wishes to reduce the competition they face by piling more red tape on the landlords that obey the law. A licensing system imposed by Newham Council wins his praise but, as a lettings agent has written:
Bad landlords make up an incredibly small percentage of the private rented sector, and to lumber every landlord with another tiresome piece of bureaucracy will damage relations and increase the barriers to entry for potential future landlords in an area of high housing demand.
How will the scheme be financed? Attempting to inspect 35,000 properties is a costly administrative undertaking; an underfunded, ill-conceived scheme will fail in its purpose and simply drive rogue landlords further underground.
I suppose lawyers have a temptation to regard more law as the answer.
At least Mr Khan is being specific in attacking the private rented sector. Much of the rest is waffle. He talks about “making affordable housing genuinely affordable” and wishing to “build more social housing” by making this a “priority.” He doesn’t explain how it would be paid for. In any case, for most Londoners, as he had earlier spotted, the aspiration is for home ownership. It is not to live in a tower block with the state as landlord.
Mr Khan is doubtless the front runner to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor. His putative manifesto lacks credibility.