13 HOURS AND COUNTING
With less than a day to go until the local elections, we take a look at the latest Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Mile End Institute polling data, which while showing Labour still well ahead of the Conservatives, may somewhat dampen the party’s ambitions of winning more boroughs.
Elsewhere, we ponder the future of Wembley Stadium amid reports of a potential sale, the Oxford Street pedestrianisation battle continues, and we give you a glimpse into life at LCA following our biennial ‘away weekend’.
Please do keep your eyes peeled for our initial analysis of the London local election results, which we will publish in a blog on our new-look website on Friday.
Do also note that we won’t be putting out an edition of LDN on Wednesday 9 May, but will instead be focusing on a post-election special, which will be arriving in your inbox on Friday 11 May.
Thank you for reading and do get in touch if you have any feedback. You can also follow us on Twitter @LDNComms.
The current owner of Championship club Fulham and NFL franchise the Jacksonville Jaguars Shahid Khan has lined up an estimated £600m for Wembley, the nation’s home of football. Khan has spoken openly about the potential sale by the Football Association allowing the stadium to be ‘configured to hold Super Bowl and World Cup finals’, the possibility of a retractable roof, and ‘enhancing the experience’ overall for attendees. He said that the ground will remain available to the national team and wider reporting has noted that proceeds of the sale could be invested by the FA into grassroots football. Nevertheless, the story has alarmed football purists and members of the wider public who fear that nothing is sacred where the market economy treads. Meanwhile, an altogether more egalitarian approach is being taken to ownership of part of the ‘home of cricket’ at Lord’s. Following protracted discussions and disputes over development plans between developers Rifkind Levy and Marylebone Cricket Club over the past 12 years, land running below the length of Lord’s Nursery Ground, originally purchased by Rifkind Levy for £2.35m in 1999, could reportedly be sold off in parcels through a new property investment company. Over the next 12 weeks potential investors can apparently register their interest in the scheme through New Commonwealth, owned by Rifkind Levy partner Johnny Sandelson. In other cricket property development news, Surrey has submitted a planning application for the first stage of the £50m redevelopment of the Kia Oval – the application is for a two-tiered stand, costing £26m, to accommodate 2,500 more spectators.
WESTMINSTER PEDESTRIANISATION STUMBLES?
Oxford Street pedestrianisation continues to dominate the local election countdown in parts of Westminster, with calls for the Mayor of London’s plans to be halted altogether. Cabinet member for Planning and Public Realm, Conservative Councillor Daniel Astaire – who will not be standing again on 3 May – declared during a recent council meeting that ‘TfL and the Mayor are the main proponents of the changes to the street, but it belongs to the council and the decision rests with us’, asserting also that ‘at present there is no scheme nor a proposal which is acceptable to the council’. He said three major hurdles now need to be addressed. Firstly, that further development should only go ahead once a scheme is designed to address residents’ concerns; secondly, that pledges made by Westminster City Council last year in response to initial consultation feedback need to be met; and thirdly, that funding must be put in place for a 10-year period. Meanwhile, candidates for the Campaign Against Pedestrianisation of Oxford Street (who are running for seats in West End, Marylebone High Street, and Bryanston & Dorset Square), have appeared at the West End ward hustings, where all the main parties declared their commitment to addressing concerns about the proposals. Oxford Street’s pedestrianisation was one of the key priorities set out in Sadiq Khan’s 2016 ‘Manifesto for all Londoners.’
The mere suggestion that US President Donald Trump could visit London last February for the inauguration of the new US Embassy at Nine Elms caused much consternation and mutual recrimination in cosmopolitan London. British politicians including London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Speaker of the House John Bercow quickly lined up to suggest they’d rather he didn’t, commentators and agitators threatened a big old brouhaha, and the government was acutely embarrassed about it all. Trump himself turned up his nose at his brand new embassy’s ‘off location’ and in the end, didn’t come. But everyone knows that all roads eventually lead to London. Trump’s visit has now been officially set for 13 July and, once again, the very idea has got all and sundry in a flap. Sadiq has noted that Londoners are likely take to the streets and use their ’freedom of speech’. Indeed, several demos are in the making, with one protest event page on Facebook hosted by Guardian columnist Owen Jones attracting more than 40,000 attendees; and almost a thousand drag queens mustering to march under the banner of the fabulous Cheddar Gorgeous. Ever the soapbox pugilist, President Trump has again struck back… by calling his embassy’s location at the heart of the Nine Elms regeneration site ‘horrible’ and ‘lousy.’
MAY’S NEW HOUSING MINISTER (AND ADVISER)
While the latest round of ministerial musical chairs has elevated Sajid Javid to Home Secretary following Amber Rudd’s resignation, MP for Old Bexley and Sidcup James Brokenshire has been appointed to fill the void at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). Brokenshire – the fourth Secretary of State at this department since 2015 – is regarded as a safe pair of hands, working under Theresa May as a junior minister during her time at the Home Office and later becoming Northern Ireland Secretary before illness forced his resignation. It is too early to tell if the London MP will continue the reformist approach of his predecessor. The sector will however hope he can use ongoing consultations on the National Planning Policy Framework and developer contributions (ending next Friday), and findings due in Summer from the Letwin Review on build-out, to effect positive outcomes for affordable housing supply and the land market. That said, the ideological thrust for the national housing agenda could be coming from elsewhere in government. On that note it is worth mentioning that the Head of Policy at Shelter and former GLA officer Toby Lloyd has joined the Number 10 Policy Unit. As an advisor to No 10, it is possible that his views on the housing crisis, once given prominence on the Shelter blog, now rise to the top of May’s in-tray. In January, Lloyd had noted that the government’s Letwin Review ‘could add up to the biggest land market reform in half a century’ and there is no doubt he will be pleased to have greater access to influencing its course. And, in bringing such an advocate for reforming the housing market in-house, it could be the first signs of the Conservative Party moving towards closer engagement with younger, rent-bound voters nationwide.
MORE HOUSING SURVEYS
The latest CBI/CBRE London Business Survey has highlighted firms’ concerns that the shortage of affordable homes to buy and rent in the capital is restricting their ability to recruit and retain staff. The problem appears to be particularly acute when it comes to entry-level staff, as 66% of the 176 respondents to the survey said that housing costs and availability are having a negative impact on the recruitment of staff at this level (indicatively up from 57% in the September 2015 Survey). Indeed, no less than 28% of respondents said they have seen employees leave their jobs because they cannot afford to live in the local area. Meanwhile, a report published by the National Housing Federation has reminded us that the housing crisis is not only a problem for millennials. In the last year, 44% of private renters in England aged 50 and over were forced to make ‘potentially drastic decisions to cover the cost of their rent,’ including borrowing money from their children, taking out loans or cutting down on food and heating. The polls reinforce the increasing public concern over housing availability, as reflected in recent polls by YouGov for London First and Grosvenor, as well as the periodic Ipsos Mori Issues Index.
SUPPORTED LIVING SECTOR PUSHBACK
Four leading retirement housing providers will soon find out if their request for a judicial review into the Mayor’s affordable housing supplementary planning guidance (SPG) can go ahead. Churchill Retirement Living, McCarthy & Stone, Renaissance Retirement and PegasusLife have challenged the Mayor’s flat 35% threshold for ‘fast-tracking’ planning applications – which if met, would waive the GLA's requirement for a viability assessment. Their representatives have claimed the SPG was unlawfully introduced, that the SPG discriminates against older people and women seeking to have their housing need met in London, and that high construction costs and different sales patterns make it difficult for the retirement property sector to provide affordable housing on site. Following an initial decision to refuse the request at the end of last year, an expedited hearing on whether their request for a judicial review will be granted is expected to conclude today – it is unclear when a ruling will be reached.
On 26 April, the Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) Mile End Institute released its latest poll on Londoners’ voting intentions. Its headline figures for the borough elections continue to show Labour ahead, with 51% (though down 3% since the last poll), the Conservatives at 29% (with a 1% uptick since February) and the Liberal Democrats again at 11%. But it has served to dampen the ambitions of Labour, which is belatedly awakening to the reality that even with an expanding voteshare, it will have a very hard time winning over the Conservative strongholds of Kensington & Chelsea, Wandsworth and Westminster. This difficulty for Labour is reflected in the latest polling results for Inner London, which stands at 59% for Labour (down a full 8% from February) against 22% for the Conservatives (up 5%). QMUL also released a separate tranche of polling results yesterday, focusing on Londoners’ satisfaction with their Mayor and their quality of life. Khan is still polling strongly, but not quite as strongly as he did a year ago: 52% think he is doing well against 30% who say he is doing badly, while year ago the figures stood at 61% and 20% respectively. More than half of Londoners say things have ‘got worse’ as regards housing (51%), NHS services (53%), crime in general (67%), and knife crime especially (79%).
LABOUR LOWERING THE BAR?
The exercise in tempering Labour’s stratospheric ambitions in London continues, though not without a little encouragement from some media outlets. On the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, Labour campaigns chief Andrew Gwynne called for the need to be ‘realistic’ over claiming both Tory flagships of Wandsworth and Westminster, and acknowledged there was a ‘high water mark’ for the party in metropolitan boroughs which it already dominates. Gwynne’s tone is notably more bashful than when Sadiq said ‘there is now no corner of London where Labour can’t win’ at last year’s London Labour conference. And latest psephology would indicate that Labour’s reticence is not unfounded; polling doyen Sir John Curtice has said that Labour ‘picking up either of the Tory citadels looks like a tall order’. Columnist Andrew Gilligan, recently cast as the Tory’s attack dog on Sadiq’s record, has also been doing all he can to dent Labour's hopes, reporting on its rogues gallery of candidates in London and beyond. Nevertheless, and in spite of forces at work against them, Labour will be sorely disappointed in not claiming at least one additional borough, having previously set the bar so high.
ONE LAST RIDE OF THE KHAN CAROUSEL
Labour’s most effective weapon has been deployed one final time before the capital’s election results pour in this Friday. On the campaign trail this past week Sadiq has tweeted (or retweeted) his appearances at Southwark, Lambeth, Croydon, Tower Hamlets, Newham, Harrow, Redbridge and – where it is hoped he will make the most difference – his home patch of Wandsworth. Crystallising Labour’s attack line on the government over the past couple of weeks, Mayor Khan has also written in The Observer that ‘our urban millions […] at local elections must back Jeremy Corbyn’s vision of a fair society’ as ‘the Conservative scandals and misjudgements stack up’. Furthermore, Sadiq has written in LabourList to call on Theresa May to protect the Windrush generation from voter ID trials taking place in Bromley and other councils beyond London. Sadiq may hope that by speaking on behalf of many Londoners’ current concerns with the government’s immigration and Brexit policies they will return the favour when casting their ballot tomorrow. And while the latest QMUL polling shows Sadiq’s appeal has lost some of its edge, it also underlines that his cut-through with Londoners remains the envy of other parties.
MORE TORY TROUBLES
The Tories have taken quite a bruising in the press and on social media over the past few days, which could cost them key votes in many councils. May’s mini-reshuffle may (or may not) assuage voters as senior Tories seek to piece together the party’s fractured image and refocus attention on local issues. Sajid Javid spoke to the Telegraph on the eve of his transfer to the Home Office, projecting his empathy to those affected by the Windrush issue, reminding voters that ‘this isn’t a general election’ and imploring them to ‘put those local government issues front of mind.’ In a piece for the Express, Conservative Party Chairman Brandon Lewis also focused on Tory councils’ record of delivering ‘low council tax, regular bin collections and clean streets.’ Lewis has also played the old ‘loony Labour councils’ card, warning people that they ‘don't want to wake up on Friday with Bolsheviks in charge of your bins’. But leading Tories have also sought to manage expectations over the local election’s result in London and nationwide, with one unnamed Cabinet source telling the Telegraph that ‘even the most optimistic projections look like a disaster’ and the party ‘could be locked out of London for a generation’. On the ground in London, the Conservative party machine has also received a number of knocks, with a candidate passing away only days before the election in Southwark and two candidates (in Lewisham and Enfield) suspended after complaints surrounding unsavoury social media posts.
ID PILOTS PALAVER
Voter ID pilots requiring voters to prove their identity before casting their ballot are being tested in Bromley, Gosport, Swindon, Watford and Woking councils tomorrow, while postal voting ID pilots are also being introduced in Tower Hamlets, Slough and Peterborough. Several charities however, including Age UK, Stonewall and Liberty have challenged the necessity for increased scrutiny over voting processes and raised concerns about it generating more problems than it solves. Campaign group the Electoral Reform Society has also described the introduction of ID pilots as ‘another barrier for honest voters’ and exclusionary for individuals lacking the proper identification to vote without government plans for a universal, free alternative. So too, the Labour Party have described the pilots as ‘discriminatory measures’ which disenfranchise legitimate voters. On the other side, defenders among Tory ranks have expressed concerns over the real potential for voter fraud and the ease at which it can be carried out. Most recently Fulham & Chelsea MP Greg Hands has suggested that residents in Hammersmith & Fulham are reporting being ‘pressured & duped into signing up’ for postal votes. And in Tower Hamlets, the Evening Standard reported on 4 April that detectives from Scotland Yard’s Specialist Crime and Operations division had received 39 new allegations of corruption across bribery, forgery and ballot tampering.
THE ‘OTHER’ PARTIES
With all eyes turned to the high-stakes competition between Labour and the Tories, it is easy to forget that for many councils, this is not simply a two-horse race. After the latest polling, Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable is evidently keen to manage expectations around his party’s performance. ‘I am expecting we will make progress in terms of seats’, he said, but ‘not spectacularly’ he added on the BBC's Daily Politics – though bookmakers Ladbrokes now has the Liberal Democrats as favourites to take Richmond as well as hold Sutton. Meanwhile, the press coverage surrounding UKIP and the Greens broadly indicates parties fighting rearguard actions. As for other independent and local groups, it is notable that the fledgling anti-Brexit party Renew has chosen to throw its weight into contesting 16 seats in total – in London’s Wandsworth, Tower Hamlets, Ealing, Hounslow and Greenwich councils, as well as North Tyneside in the North East. Another centrist party, Advance, is contesting 12 seats in Kensington & Chelsea. And in Havering and Tower Hamlets, a constellation of local independent groups are sure to give returning officers a headache as they tally up their boroughs’ ballots. While it would appear unlikely that any of these groups will make dramatic gains in London, surprises should not be ruled out. And perhaps just as importantly, if sufficient voters throw their weight behind smaller parties in marginal boroughs such as Wandsworth, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, we could see a number of councils slip into the political limbo of No Overall Control (NOC).
LCA AWAY WEEKEND
Last weekend the entire company went on our biennial away weekend to a beautiful château just outside of Paris. We did actually do some work – spending the Saturday discussing the business, sharing best practice from across our work and considering further improvements we could make for our clients. But we did also do a lot of eating, drinking, dancing, singing and mucking about - it was tired faces all around on Monday but brilliant fun was had by the whole team!
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.
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