It seems a little late, but Zac Goldsmith has finally joined the London mayoral election party. His rivals have been issuing policies for weeks - but Goldsmith launched his ‘action plan for Greater London’ in Croydon this week.
And what a limp plan it is. Twelve action points, several of which (the Night Tube and limits on polluting vehicles, for example, as well as protecting neighbourhood policing teams) are mere continuations of Boris Johnson’s policies and plans.
One differentiator is housing, which should be a major factor in the election. Goldsmith says he’ll “start fixing London’s housing crisis”, which implies the previous mayor has sat on his hands for the last eight years. He says that by 2020 he’ll be building 50,000 homes a year, not on the green belt; that homes built on public land will be available to Londoners first; that a “significant proportion” of new-build homes will be for rent; and that he’ll protect the rights of tenants on regenerated estates to stay in their homes.
Which sounds lovely, except the devil is in the detail. How, exactly, those homes are going to be built isn’t explained. The current administration struggled to build 55,000 homes in four years. Goldsmith has previously mentioned some kind of bond scheme to raise money, similar to an idea previously put forward by David Lammy.
But even if the cash is forthcoming, the Greater London Authority and Transport for London has enough land for around 100,000 homes; he’d need to persuade government departments to give up land or sell at a lower price than could be achieved on the open market.
At what density will the homes be built? How much will they cost to rent and buy? What kind of tenancies will the homes for rent have? Will lower cost homes be pushed into outer London, as Goldsmith suggested recently? And what about people renting in the private sector? Until these questions are answered, Goldsmith comes nowhere near fixing the housing crisis.
An area of noticeable silence is on fares for public transport. While there’s considerable scepticism that TfL has the budget capacity to absorb Labour candidate Sadiq Khan’s promise to freeze fares for four years, Khan is also promising joined-up thinking on multiple bus journeys. The Lib Dems and Greens are coming up with other creative ways to make public transport cheaper and fairer, but there appears to be no such ambition from the Conservatives.
The one nod to the cost of getting around is a pledge to protect the Freedom Pass for elderly and disabled people… except it’s actually funded by councils, and nothing to do with the mayor at all.
There’s also very little about how any of Goldsmith’s promises are going to be funded. Can you imagine a general election campaign pledge getting away with that? The Green Party knows they’ll be attacked on financing as soon as Sian Berry opens her mouth, so are keen to provide supporting figures. It is astonishing that the candidate from a party so keen to be seen as fiscally responsible will only say it’ll all be paid for without raising council tax.
What do stand out in Goldsmith’s Croydon speech, however, are the repeated attacks on Sadiq Khan. According to Goldsmith, Khan has “no record of working with other parties” and “no interest in fixing problems”. He is “Jeremy Corbyn’s candidate”, a “caricature machine politician” whose “radical policies” will mire City Hall in infighting. It’s a curious link to make, given that London is more sympathetic to Corbyn than the rest of the country.
It’s easy to imagine the hand of Lynton Crosby, the grand master of negative campaigning, behind this. But it ignores Goldsmith’s main USP: he positions himself as an activist politician, yet he appears to be an activist without any impressive policies to act on. He is also, in person, an intelligent, thoughtful and surprisingly genuine man. It will be interesting to see how comfortable he is in the role of attack dog.
Crucially, if Goldsmith’s campaign really is setting itself up to go mano a mano, what voters will see is a rich, posh, blond chap talking trash to a Muslim bus driver’s son. But if this lack of policies is anything to go by, does he have anything else to fight with?
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