Syed Kamall is Chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group and is an MEP for London.
The Conservative Party has effectively fired the starting gun on the next contest for Mayor of London. Time, then, to consider what sort of mayor the capital deserves and what sort of candidate the Party needs.
First thing to say is it will not be me: the gun has been fired too soon. As a Londoner born and bred, I would love one day to have the opportunity to run to be mayor of our great city. However, I still have an important job to do in Brussels, which would rather get in the way of campaigning. As the most senior elected Briton in Brussels and someone who knows negotiators on both sides of the table, I will continue to act as an interlocutor in the run-up to Brexit, to help secure the best possible future EU-UK relationship.
But since the timing has ruled me out, I feel liberated enough to offer some thoughts.
London is a global capital, not just a European or British city. As a world-leading city, London draws some of the best talent from across the planet, not a mere 27 EU countries. I want our candidate to argue for a fair immigration policy which focuses on filling the skills gaps while treating everyone from outside the UK equally, no longer giving priority to mostly white Europeans over mostly non-white non-Europeans.
London is also a tech capital – the most tech-friendly location in the world after Silicon Valley, according to Tech Nation. But other countries are striving to catch up. Our next Mayor must commit unequivocally to maintaining London’s lead in tech and making sure that we are open to the best advances in the world, whether it be sharing-economy firms such as Uber and AirBnb, or FinTech developments aimed at increasing financial inclusion and offering financial services to the very poorest. I am a huge fan of Kiva, the website that allows people all over the world to lend in blocks of $25 to entrepreneurs in poorer countries. I am currently working on a platform to allow more people to lend to entrepreneurs from poorer communities in London and the UK. Unfortunately, some of our housing estates are seen as hubs of crime. Given that there are often many entrepreneurs on our estates, but sometimes operating outside the formal economy, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could help the creation of new businesses, so that estates begun to be seen as hubs of enterprise instead?
A priority must be making sure we have fast broadband and Wi-Fi right across London to encourage a number of tech hubs across the capital.
We also need a mayor that champions Greentech. The controversy over climate change overshadows a remarkable political consensus when it comes to tackling pollution and waste. We all want cleaner air, less waste, more recycling, energy efficiency and better use of alternative energy. London should be a showcase for the very best Greentech in the world from battery-electric and hydrogen-electric vehicles, through to eradication of single-use plastics and adoption of more environmentally-friendly materials and practices.
Our candidate must recognise that London comprises many independent-minded and varied local communities which come together to make one great city. Just as I have always been against a “one size fits all” Europe with decisions handed down from a centralised political body, I also believe that we should be encouraging innovation across London’s local communities. I believe the Mayor should be championing community-led solutions to many of the issues local neighbourhoods face, whether it be financial exclusion, radicalisation and extremism, gang culture, homelessness or rehabilitating former offenders. That is not to say the Mayor should shirk their own responsibilities, but should work with some of the amazing local community projects across London and encourage them to expand or incubate new local projects, to help the very poorest in London.
Londoners needs a mayor who will look after their hard-earned money. They want financial competence, but instead they have seen some of London’s transport projects delayed or postponed due to poor management from London’s Mayor. In claiming to freeze fares (even misleadingly) Transport for London has been left with a financial hole which means much-needed projects have had to be delayed.
However Londoners voted in the EU referendum, we need to recognise that EU citizens in London face uncertainty, either because they have been scared by the tactics during the referendum of those who told them that they will be sent home, or because the government has not yet been clear on the registration process to ensure that they continue to enjoy full rights after the UK leaves the EU. A Conservative Mayor should be at the forefront of the registration process, recruiting volunteers to help EU citizens register to stay, especially those who are less tech savvy.
Since the beginning of the year, there have been a shocking number of deaths from knife crime. The mayor is responsible for policing in the capital, yet almost every press release has sought to blame the government for the problem. Duwayne Brooks, an anti-violence campaigner, who was with Stephen Lawrence when he was murdered 25 years ago has expressed his concerns that “we have a Mayor that seems to not recognise that his leadership is part of the problem in London”. Whatever our political views, London needs a Mayor who takes responsibility for tackling crime and bringing together local community projects, experts and the police to tackle this problem.
Finally, and most crucially, our candidate must grasp the fact that housing is the biggest issue facing London. We simply do not have enough homes and the current Mayor has failed on his promises. I have met some innovative companies such as Pocket Living who manufacture well-designed apartments off-site, before transporting them to the building site. They argue that better design could justify a lower minimum size for new builds. Other builders are creating co-living developments with shared kitchens and laundries for those who prefer location over size.
We also need to encourage a market in “off-plan” mortgages to allow Londoners to buy new developments before they are built. Currently such purchases are really only open to cash buyers, usually from overseas. Priority must go to local communities and to allow them to have more of a say in regeneration, especially of housing estates, and to make sure they are guaranteed a home when their estate is redeveloped. The Mayor should also work constructively with local authorities outside the M25 where Londoners may be happy to become commuters in return for having larger homes.
So – we need someone to stand for a global London with more homes. A leading tech city, a green London, a London of grassroots communities.
We must be a London that offer opportunities to everyone regardless of background, but open to the best talent in the world, not restrict ourselves to being a “little European” city. Hopefully, this will be an agenda that the Conservative Mayoral candidate pursues with vigour and confidence.