HAPPY NEW YEAR AND WELCOME BACK TO ALL OUR READERS!
We hope you enjoyed a restorative break, because it looks like we are straight back to politics and posturing.
We reckon that the Mayor won the year’s first ding-dong with Government as he compared his fare freeze with the biggest rise in commuter rail prices for five years.
Of course, there will be many more battles to come in the lead up to the local elections, now exactly five months away, especially as the outlook for the Tories is looking less than festive – Lord Hayward thinks they could lose control of all but three London councils. Whether on security, infrastructure, housing or Brexit and the economy, the Government will not want to give an inch to London’s Labour Mayor. We predict a tense time on all fronts.
At a local level, even in ‘safe’ Labour boroughs there is still a good deal of positioning going on. We look at Newham and Haringey in detail below and of course plenty more of this across all the boroughs in the weeks and months to come. Watch this space for more each week and let us know if there’s anywhere in particular you’d like us to look at.
MAYOR ON THE RAILS: GRAYLING ON THE ROPES?
2018 dawned with some good news for long suffering passengers at London Bridge, as five new platforms opened at the station as part of a £1bn upgrade programme. But on the same day, commuters were hit with the biggest increase in rail fares for five years. An annual rail pass into a London terminal has gone up on average £146 and as passenger numbers on public transport have fallen over the last year, many have questioned whether commuters are simply being priced out. Meanwhile, transport secretary Chris Grayling was out of the country, leaving his nemesis Sadiq Khan to capitalise on the moment by reminding people that Transport for London fares are frozen (a pledge he made before he was elected) and announcing that his one-hour bus hopper ticket can now be used for unlimited journeys (as opposed to just one change). With both Lord Adonis (see below) and Sadiq Khan gunning for Grayling, particularly over rail devolution, this is likely to stay a hot topic over the next few months.
BOBBIES ON THE BEAT
If transport is one major political issue, security and crime will be another with New Year very sadly marred by four separate fatal stabbings in London over the space of 24 hours. Sadiq Khan launched his ‘London Needs You Alive’ campaign in November, aimed at deterring young people from carrying knives. The Mayor has also subsequently announced that 529 new dedicated neighbourhood police officers have been appointed since he took office in summer 2016, fulfilling a key campaign pledge. Now each of the capital’s 629 wards has at least two Police Constables (PCs) and one Police Community Support Officer (PCSO); up until last year, most only had one of each. Meanwhile, the Mayor also announced a new programme to better tackle violent extremism over the course of 2018. All of this comes as the Mayor and Government continue to spar over funding and resources for the Metropolitan Police and the causes and consequences of station closures across London. In a press release just before Christmas, the Mayor said that he had ‘no choice’ but to raise council tax for 2018/19 across the city to mitigate government cuts to the police and fire brigade budgets. The increase is the maximum allowed without a referendum and is made up of the 5.8% allowed by the policing precept and 2.99% allowed more generally. This will equate to £14.20 per year per Band D household.
LORD ADONIS’ INFRASTRUCTURE BLUES
Labour peer Lord Adonis has resigned as chair of the National Infrastructure Commission (NIC), protesting the government’s management of Brexit and the decision over the East Coast rail franchise. In a strongly-worded letter and subsequent statements to the press, Lord Adonis asserted that Brexit has caused a ‘nervous breakdown’ in Whitehall representing nothing more than ‘a dangerous populist and nationalist spasm’, and used the opportunity to argue in favour of a second referendum on the terms of any Brexit deal negotiated by the government. In tandem, he harshly criticised the current transport secretary’s ‘indefensible decision to bail out the Stagecoach/Virgin East Coast rail franchise’. Indeed, he claimed that he received ‘inappropriate requests to desist’ from his criticism of Chris Grayling’s plans. Lord Adonis served as transport minister during Gordon Brown’s Labour administration and was appointed chair of the cross-party NIC in 2015; he has been a strong supporter of a number of major infrastructure projects central to London’s growth and development, such as Heathrow’s expansion, HS2 and Crossrail 2.
SIR ROBIN SPEAKS UP
The Mayor of Newham, Sir Robin Wales, has suggested that the Labour Party should cancel the trigger ballot which secured his reselection for the 2018 Local Elections and hold a re-run under the auspices of the national or regional Labour Party. This follows a great deal of controversy surrounding the trigger ballot, held back in November 2016, which saw local campaigners voicing concerns over the process and crowdsourcing funds for a legal challenge. Just before Christmas, Sir Robin announced he would rather just re-run the process and fellow Labour councillors Kay Scoresby and John Whitworth, who have both previously thrown their hat in the ring to stand against him, have stated they support this move. However, they have expressed doubts that there is enough time to hold a full trigger ballot process and potential selection process whilst still finalising candidate selections for the 3 May election. As of the writing of this piece, there has been no response from the national or regional Labour Party.
HARINGEY POSITIONING STARTS
There has been further political turbulence in Haringey with the resignation from her post as Cabinet Member for the Environment of Cllr Peray Ahmet. Her strongly worded open letter, seen by some as positioning for a leadership challenge after the May local elections, cited the ‘divisive and rightly criticised Haringey Development Vehicle’ (HDV) and council leader Claire Kober’s ‘top-down style of leadership and failure to collaborate’. Although Claire Kober retains a working majority in favour of the HDV within the current Labour Group of Cllrs (estimated at 26 Pro-HDV to 23 Anti-HDV) this will shift dramatically after the local election, where 45 out 57 Labour candidates are opposed to the HDV. Whilst the Council still awaits the outcome of the JR challenge into the HDV, it has pressed ahead with a separate joint venture with Lendlease and signed the development agreement for High Road West, just opposite Spurs’ new stadium development.
LOCAL GOVERNMENT FINANCE SETTLEMENT
Late last year, the Department for Communities for Local Government published its annual draft local government finance report, setting out the rules local authorities must adhere to for the next financial year. The main headline is that councils will be able to increase their core council tax requirement by an additional 1% without a local referendum (in line with inflation), raising the total possible increase to 5.99%. However, London Councils regards the measure as no more than small change, saying the measure is ‘wholly inadequate compared to the scale of the challenge facing London boroughs’, and will raise no more than £30m in total. The organisation’s chair Claire Kober described the measure as ‘tinkering’ that would go ‘nowhere near’ plugging an anticipated £1.6bn funding gap across all London boroughs by 2020. Meanwhile, the London Assembly will be reviewing the Mayor’s 2018-19 budget plans over the next few weeks, in which it has been indicated – as noted above – that he will raise both the policing and non-policing precepts by their respective maximums of 5.8% and 2.99%. Released on 21 December, the Mayor's draft budget will remain open for consultation until Friday 12 January and is expected to be finalised and agreed by 22 February.
LIBERAL DEMOCRATS IN CAMDEN
Independent Cllr Andrew Marshall, a former leader of Camden Conservatives and deputy leader of Camden between 2006 and 2010, has announced that he has joined the Liberal Democrats. A vocal Remainer, Marshall left the Conservative Party last February to protest the government’s policy on Brexit. He currently represents Swiss Cottage Ward along with two Conservative Councillors, and sits on several key committees, including the Planning Committee. He has, however, confirmed that he will not be standing again in May 2018, though he has promised he ‘will be doing [his] bit to get Liberal Democrats elected in the months and years ahead’. The Liberal Democrats will certainly be hoping for a resurgence of their brand in Remain territories like Camden and other inner London boroughs, where they have historically had a significant presence.
NEW YEAR’S HONOURS
A number of key figures in London’s housing, arts and education sectors have been recognised in the New Year’s Honours list including:
- CBE: Stephen Howlett, former chief executive, Peabody.
- CBE: Veronica Wadley, chair, Arts Council London and former editor of the Evening Standard (2002-2009).
- OBE: Ranjit Dheer, Deputy leader (Lab), Ealing Council.
- OBE: Annie Hampson, chief planning officer, City of London Corporation.
- OBE: Richard Sennett, chairman, LSE Cities.
- OBE: Marc Vlessing, chief executive officer, Pocket Living.
Meanwhile, it is apparently ‘too soon’ for emergency crews who came to the rescue of those caught in the Grenfell Tower fire and the UK’s terror attacks according to a Cabinet Office source, and it is likely these people will be honoured in the Queen’s birthday honours in June.
COUNTDOWN TO THE LOCAL ELECTION
As of today, London’s local elections are precisely five months away, with 1,851 council seats to be contested in the capital’s 32 boroughs (note - the City of London Corporation has a different election timetable and held its last vote in March 2017). The LCA team is closely monitoring relevant trends and developments, from polling results to candidate selection processes and the particular local issues of influence – watch this space for further updates and analysis. We were particularly interested to read yet more evidence that the Conservatives are wising up to their ‘London problem’. Lord Hayward, a Conservative peer, has told the Standard that the party could lose more than half of its nine London boroughs. The prominent political analyst and psephologist stated that the Tories are facing a ‘tough fight’ in Richmond against the Lib Dems, the ‘fight of their lives’ in Westminster and Wandsworth against Labour, and likely defeat in Barnet (where they have a majority of one over Labour) and Kingston. He also remarked that in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, Kensington and Chelsea, is simply ‘impossible to call’. These observations on the whole match LCA’s analysis for the past several months. But seeing the problem is one thing and acting upon it is entirely another and the question remains: Do the Tories have enough time – and political capital – to overhaul their image and rally voters in London?
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
And finally, if you have not yet had an opportunity to read our blog on the new draft London Plan, published shortly before the Christmas break, we highly recommend that you do! Within, Jenna Goldberg considers the political context of Sadiq Khan’s magnum opus and asks whether it ticks all the right boxes for the industry, voters and Londoners alike.
LCA prides itself on its intelligence-led approach to PR and communications and our dedicated research team monitors London politics, news and issues as it happens. If you would like to know more about LCA or anything in this edition of LDN – London in short please get in touch.
LDN is put together by a dedicated team at London Communications Agency. The content for each edition is developed from news drawn from the last week from every London local paper as well as the regional and national press, from intelligence gathered by monitoring local, regional and national government activity and from the insight and expert knowledge of the entire LCA team.
If you would like to know more about anything covered in this or any other edition of LDN or if you would like to know more about LCA please contact Jenna Goldberg on 020 7612 8480 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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