IT’S ALL POLITICS THIS WEEK
…as a new poll shows Sadiq’s reputation lose its shine, while national and local party structures are buffeted by internal conflicts.
In this issue of LDN, we take a close look at Queen Mary University’s latest London Polling, local political developments in Camden, Haringey and Westminster, as well as the Conservative and Labour parties’ wider struggles. We also cover the Boundary Commission’s final recommendations – even though it seems they are to be shelved indefinitely.
We also examine the latest news about development in the Olympic Park area, the sale of Network Rail’s property estate, people moves and of course London’s seemingly never-ending infrastructure woes.
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SADIQ, LABOUR AND TORIES ALL TAKE A TUMBLE
The latest London poll conducted by YouGov for the Mile End Institute at Queen Mary University of London suggests that the Mayor’s popularity is waning. 44% of respondents said Sadiq is doing well (down from 52% in April 2018) against 40% who said he is doing badly (up from 30%), for a net score of +4. According to Philip Cowley, Professor of Politics at Queen Mary and Director of the Mile End Institute, this drop is most noticeable among the 50-64 age-group, working class Londoners, those living in outer London and white voters. But the poll didn’t just spell bad news for Sadiq. Headline voting intention for Labour has fallen from 52% in April to 48% this September, and the Tories have slipped from 31% to 26% in the same period. The smaller parties have benefitted, with the Liberal Democrats now at 15% (up 5%) the Greens at 5% (up 2%) and even UKIP at 4% (up 2%). However 6/10 of respondents opposed the very idea of Nigel Farage standing for Mayor in 2020, with 62% against and only 22% for. The poll was first publicised by the Evening Standard on Monday – on the tail-end of its pretty brutal ‘audit’ of Sadiq’s tenure last week – but you can find the detailed report here.
LLDC GUNS FOR 50% AFFORDABLE
The Mayor has committed to delivering 50% affordable housing on the three remaining blocks of land controlled by the London Legacy Development Corporation (LLDC) and earmarked for major residential developments. An estimated 3,000 homes will be built across Stratford Waterfront, Pudding Mill and Rick Roberts Way over the next 12 years. The Mayor has pledged political support and financial resources to realise this aim, including funding worth circa £10m a year over 20 years (to be confirmed in the Mayor’s next budget).
This renewed commitment to boosting the delivery of affordable housing at the Olympic Park was discussed at length during a London Assembly Plenary session held last week. Both the LLDC’s Chair, Sir Peter Hendy, and its Chief Executive, Lyn Garner, were bullish about the Corporation’s ability to deliver 50% affordable overall on its remaining housing schemes – and can indeed boast that the LLDC exceeded its current London Plan housing delivery allocations for 2014-2017 by 9%, building 6,435 homes compared to a target of 5,884 for that period. Garner said the LLDC expects to continue doing so in 2018-2019 and to at least meet the new London Plan’s targets from 2019 onwards. Garner did, however, warn that uncertainty surrounding Brexit, the economy and the housing market represent substantive risks to the LLDC’s plans. It is also notable that with Stratford Waterfront already set to deliver 35% affordable, the other two sites will now have to deliver above 50%.
CAMDEN LABOUR RUMBLINGS
While the national parties’ internal divisions have been dominating headlines (more on the latest in the next section), LCA has been keeping an eye on how they have been playing out locally, in London’s councils. Recent developments in Camden Council exemplify how even Labour’s strongholds are being shaken by these controversies, as well as local disagreements. Camden Momentum made little headway in the run up to the last local elections and the council didn’t witness high profile fall-outs amongst Labour personnel as in Haringey and Southwark, but enduring bad blood between leftists and ‘moderates’ in the local party branch made the national press over the past couple of weeks. The North London borough’s Momentum activists also prominently led the picketing of last week’s Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) meeting to protest the party’s adoption of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) full definition of antisemitism. Meanwhile, the Camden New Journal has reported on ‘leaked’ emails showing a number of Camden Labour councillors reacting with indignation when their whip proposed a list of suggested questions for cross-examining Cabinet Member Danny Beales at a recent session of the council’s Culture and Environment Scrutiny Committee.
Aside from internal discord, it also looks like Camden’s leadership is facing some fierce opposition from the other parties on the council – despite the fact that Labour boosted its majority this May by a net five seats, to an impressive 43 of the total 54. Following pressure by the Conservatives at the aforementioned Culture and Environment Scrutiny Committee session, Councillor Beales, who leads on planning regeneration, has reportedly said that he will ‘explore’ the potential use of Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) powers against developers responsible for unauthorised works. While POCA is more commonly used to confiscate the illicit gains of crime rackets, the local Conservatives argue that Camden is employing these and other planning enforcement measures far too sparingly.
Over the past year, Haringey has generally made headlines due to the surge of grassroots and left-wing activism which split the local Labour party, toppled its long-serving Leader just before the elections and ultimately contributed to the demise of the Haringey Development Vehicle. This week saw continued efforts by the council’s new leadership to wipe the slate clean, with the council scrapping the previous administration’s plans for developing a new Youth Zone in Wood Green. Haringey Labour councillors deny that the move is politically motivated, arguing that the plans as they stand would provide a single facility, excluding young people who live far from it – and that youth services would be more accessible if delivered on school premises across the borough.
Meanwhile, Haringey Labour appears happy to carry on with at least one of the council’s long-term development-related commitments, namely the new London Construction Programme. It was announced last week that the £7bn procurement framework, which will cover public housing, education and leisure and capital projects, is being run by Haringey on behalf of all 33 local authorities in London. This new framework is expected to open in 2019 and run for five years, replacing the MW14 Major Construction framework, which was also run by Haringey and expires in May.
National railway operator Network Rail has announced it is selling its commercial property portfolio to a consortium comprised of Blackstone Group and Telereal Trillium for £1.46bn. The sale covers a total of around 5,200 properties across England and Wales, of which about 4,450 are railway arches converted for commercial use (about half of the arches are in London). The sale is crucial to shoring up Network Rail’s finances and enabling the delivery of railway upgrade plans. However, the announcement comes as campaigners opposed to the sale have upped the ante and secured wide coverage in the mainstream media. Small businesses holding long-term leases for railway arches have by far been the most vocal in expressing fears that the new owners will hike rents and drum them out. However, both Network Rail and the new owners have offered assurances that there are no such plans, that tenants current leases will remain in force, and that they are committed to a ‘tenants first’ policy. Curiously, The Times reported earlier this week that Network Rail has ‘removed thousands of railway arches from the sale’, something which does not appear to have come to pass. It is also worth noting that Transport Minister Jo Johnson (who is also, lest we forget, Minister for London) has been directly involved in efforts to mediate between Network Rail and arch tenants.
- Niall Bolger, the Chief Executive of Sutton Council, will be stepping down before the end of the year to take up the role of Chief Executive at Hounslow Council. Bolger, who has been at Sutton for almost eight years, will be taking up the post left vacant by Mary Harpley’s appointment as Head of Paid service at the GLA. Sutton Council has said it will confirm its own arrangements regarding Bolger’s replacement shortly.
- Simon Kirby, until recently the Chief Operating Officer of Rolls Royce plc, has joined the Nichols Group as an associate Senior Advisor. Kirby was also previously the Chief Executive of HS2 Ltd.
PHONE BOX POLITICS
Westminster City Council has called for more planning powers to regulate… phone boxes. While seldom used in an age of mobile phones, phone boxes still enjoy ‘permitted development’ status, meaning that there is a presumption in favour of applications for their instalment. Westminster is not alone among councils calling for their status to be revisited, as phone boxes equipped with print and digital advertising billboards are making a comeback in many areas. Westminster, which hosts over 1,000 phone boxes, received applications for 300 new ones in the past two years alone (of which it rejected 170) and is currently processing no less than 99 applications for new phone boxes from BT. Cabinet Member for Planning and Public Realm, Councillor Richard Beddoe, has been keen to highlight that the vast majority of applications are for ‘ugly oversized advertising structures posing as telephone boxes.’ Beddoe is asking the government and Ofcom to amend the regulatory framework and give councils more powers in this area, echoing similar calls by the Local Government Association (LGA) this past January.
Tory-related press coverage over the past week has focused on Boris’ leadership ambitions and personal life, as well as Brexiteers’ efforts to whip up enough support among MPs to bury the Chequers deal and back a ‘Brexit means Brexit’ alternative. But politicking aside, a look at the programme for the Conservative Party conference’s fringe speaks volumes about the party’s more long-term challenges: ‘Are all young people really Corbynistas?’ asks the title of one event; ‘why don't women vote Conservative?’ asks another; and ‘how important is it for the Conservatives to present a new offer to renters?’ asks a third. All point to major voter segments in urban areas and London in particular, where the Tories are fighting a rear-guard action against sustained Labour advances. In fact, the Tories are so eager to win back votes in London that yet another fringe event on the first day of conference invites attendees to ‘help to write a manifesto for London which will be presented to our Mayoral candidate ahead of the 2020 election’ – attendees are also promised a ‘short speech’ by the Conservatives’ soon-to-be-announced Mayoral candidate. The LCA team will be there, so watch this space for pre and post conference updates!
Meanwhile, Labour’s disagreements over tackling anti-Semitism within the party continue to generate conflict. Despite the party leadership’s efforts to refocus public attention – Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell has been on a conspicuous charm offensive of late – this controversy is playing out in parallel with efforts by the party’s left to further entrench its position, particularly in London. Several Labour MPs have seen their local party branches hold votes of no confidence against them in recent weeks. These include Joan Ryan, Gavin Shuker, and Kate Hoey, all of whom represent constituencies within or close to London and have been critical of the party leadership. Such is the heat felt by ‘moderate’ London MPs in their own CLPs that Chukka Umunna MP (who represents Streatham in south London) has called on the party leadership to ‘call off the dogs.’ This is not to say that Momentum is in a position to entirely displace the Labour establishment in London. Indeed, the last local elections proved its influence – and appetite to shake things up – remains limited in many areas. The abovementioned votes of no confidence may suggest the chances of these MPs securing reselection are slim – but they remain a largely symbolic gesture for now, as all remain in place. But it is hard to shake the impression that the party’s left wing is on the warpath. If this is so, it could seek to claim more scalps in the weeks and months ahead.
THE BOUNDARY REVIEW
And if the parties did not have enough to disagree on, Boundary Commission has published its final recommendations for new parliamentary constituency boundaries. Aside from redrawing lines on the map to ensure greater parity of population, the changes would see the number of MPs cut from 650 to 600. While the reduction was ratified back in 2011, successive governments have failed to push through legislation actually implementing it, in the face of conflicting analyses of whom the changes will benefit (and who will lose out). The plans would see London go from 73 to 68 constituencies and would put MPs from both parties in an uncomfortable position. It is understood that changes to Boris Johnson’s (Uxbridge and South Ruislip) constituency could see his a more left leaning voter base, while Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn's (Islington North) constituency would be abolished altogether. With all opposition parties opposed to the changes and multiple disgruntled MPs in her own party more than ready to rebel, it appears that the Prime Minister has already shelved a vote in Parliament, deferring it to next year.
YET MORE TRANSPORT WOES
There seems to be very little good news about London’s major transport infrastructure these days. Crossrail’s announcement that the Elizabeth Line’s central section will not open this year as planned has continued to generate headlines (and headaches). The Mayor, flanked by Crossrail and TfL chiefs, was called on to offer an explanation to a highly charged London Assembly Plenary last Thursday. By the end of the session, AMs appeared more comfortable with the technical reasons for the delay – but less so with the excuses offered as to why Crossrail had appeared so confident it could deliver to its original deadline, right up to the day it announced it could not. Meanwhile, Heathrow’s tortured expansion project could be even further complicated following reports that Surinder Arora, a major landowner in the airport’s area, intends to submit a rival planning application to that of Heathrow Airport Holdings Limited, to promote his own £14bn plans for a third runway. Elsewhere, HS2’s image has received yet another blow following a new poll of 2,100 people commissioned by the Telegraph, which found that 38% of respondents oppose it, while only 26% support it and 36% simply aren’t sure about it all. Meanwhile,
HEIDI ON CROSSRAIL (1 & 2)
LCA was present at London First's annual London Infrastructure Summit, held today at the QEII centre. We were particularly interested to hear what the Deputy Mayor of Transport Heidi Alexander had to say about London’s major transport projects, considering the grim news of recent weeks. Alexander called the delays afflicting Crossrail ‘hugely disappointing’ but offered assurances that the decision was made for sound reasons. Calling for cool heads instead of more rash commentary, she was keen to stress that the difficulties faced by Crossrail should not diminish enthusiasm for Crossrail 2. As regards the latter, she said that its strategic transport need and economic case are ‘indisputable’ and its positive impact ‘will be felt outside of London.’ It is encouraging that Alexander believes projects like Crossrail 2 are ‘absolutely critical’ – but businesses across the capital would likely be more encouraged if they were more confident in City Hall’s ability to deliver these, on time and within budget.
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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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