Tony Devenish is London Assembly Member for Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, and the City of Westminster.
All politicians tend to ”fight the last war”.
Labour think shouting ”NHS cuts” or ”education cuts” is always the answer.
We Conservatives still ”bang on” about ”Corbyn and the IRA”. Like the media, we want to talk and talk and talk about Brexit (or Donald Trump: cheap 24 hour rolling news I’m afraid). So I have stolen/amended Bill Clinton’s quote ”It’s the Economy, Stupid” for my headline.
Since the general election, the temperature is simmering at boiling point for ”young people” – that category now includes everyone in London under 40 years of age. Rent levels and house prices are pushing Londoners further and further out of the capital and the South East of England or into smaller and smaller properties.
Most of us in public life (including the media) are on one side of a fence as high as the old Iron Curtain. We are homeowners (or at least have an eye-watering mortgage, but at historically low interest rates). The vast majority of those under 40 in London are living in a parallel and less pleasant universe.
”Generation Rent” are being smugly told by a coalition of PRS (private rental sector) finance types, RSL’s (residential social landlords), the housing associations, and millionaire developers (all home owners themselves) that the future’s bright – the future’s a lifetime of renting. What about shared equity ?
Ironically, even leading Tory borough councillors are standing down in May 2018 partly because, like their contemporaries, they simply cannot afford to live in London.
In our capital city, we Conservatives face formidable opponents. NHS professionals, many of whom see us as the enemy while enjoying six figure packages; Michael Gove’s ”education blob” …; – we have failed to win widespread support here. Since 2010, a third huge state monolith has quietly grown even more powerful by mergers and because of Treasury generosity: the housing lobby. Again, rarely do I meet anyone amongst the housing associations who does not see our Party, and especially ”the Right to Buy”, in the way that Dracula views a wooden stake.
Is Government listening? Today, young people thankfully don’t riot like the Poll tax generation of 1990, or the French. They mentally switch off – or vote Corbyn. Many under-40s have told me since the election that they were mortified that Labour did so well: they failed to vote Conservative to ”send us a clear message”.
But the lack of a sense of urgency in Whitehall is appalling.
”Oh well” says the the DCLG (Department of Communities and Local Government) – “the White Paper on housing this Spring offered a host of ideas” – and yes, some are indeed good.
I welcome the Daily Telegraph‘s Campaign on Stamp Duty and pray that the sensible Philip Hammond will act soon. I also welcome the Prime Minister’s establishment of Alok Sharma’s post-Grenfell Tower review. But enough ”buck passing”. Those of us who are elected councillors need not grow old waiting for government.
Most (not all London) Borough’s own or have influence over huge tracts of public land. A third of the 33 London boroughs have got on and started to redevelop all or part of their town halls and other land and buildings. Amongst other changes, we are seeing a University Business School and new housing, shops, and offices. But shockingly, despite shouting ”cuts” for seven years, the majority, including many Conservative-run boroughs, have done very little.
Let me be blunt: If you are a London Conservative councillor and you let officers mirror the DCLG ”speed” of response, come May 2018, unless you are an elected Member adjacent to Kent, it may no longer be your problem. We Conservatives face in London borough elections a potentially worse result than at anytime since the mid-1990s, when John Major had to fight John Redwood to remain famously ”in office, but not in power” for a further two years of managerial drift.
On this site recently Greg Hands outlined the threat from Momentum hard Left taking over more boroughs and building even fewer homes.
Do not expect Labour Sadiq Khan to help young Londoners. As a Blairite, he is happily fiddling at the edges. Central Government, not the Mayor, will be blamed if Khan continues to be allowed to land bank more land than any other landowner in our capital.
Transport for London alone controls land the size of 16 Hyde Parks – equivalent to the size of the London Borough of Camden. Khan will happily take at least four years’ to spend £3.15 billion of Government money. He may – I say may – start (not finish in that time) 90,000 new homes…but then again he may not.
At Conservative borough level let’s strive, as I wrote in July , to make a real difference on housing on our land as we seek re-election in May 2018.