By Abeer Sharma
Last Thursday evening the Evening Standard held hustings for the Conservative candidates running to be their party’s chosen one for next year’s Mayor of London election- Andrew Boff, Zac Goldsmith MP, Stephen Greenhalgh and Syed Kamall MEP.
Truth be told, the lack of big names compared to the Labour race has thus far failed to ignite much excitement. However, an interesting 90 minute debate took place on some of the big issues that London faces. Read on for a summary of the matters raised and the most interesting responses to them.
On Young People
Andrew Boff: Expand apprenticeships further by scrapping JSA for young people and give that money to employers in order to fund more apprenticeships.
Zac Goldsmith: Devolve further education skills funding to local authorities. Make London as business friendly as possible, including by solving the city’s connectivity problem.
Stephen Greenhalgh: 1/3 of jobs are to disappear within the next 10 years. Equip young people with the skills for the jobs of the future in technology for example.
Andrew Boff: Give away government land and build homes for young people. Develop 40 garden suburbs outside of London and increase the number of housing zones. Build quality low-rise, low density properties with gardens.
Zac Goldsmith: Free up government land and use London’s reputation as a safe haven to incentivise foreign investors to build affordable properties that Londoners can live in.
Stephen Greenhalgh: Make sure new homes complement the neighbourhoods they are built in. Do not rule out high density housing so that those on low incomes can access affordable housing.
Syed Kamall: Work with neighbouring areas outside London as not everyone wants to live within the boundaries of the city depending on where they work. High density housing works in attractive Maida Vale and can be replicated across London.
On Tube fares and the Unions
Andrew Boff: Fares have gone up for years in order to shift burden onto regular commuters so there is no chance of a fare reduction. No direct negotiation with unions as it gives them the political involvement they yearn for. Introduce driverless trains by the end of this decade and retain a pool of retired tube drivers in the event of strikes.
Stephen Greenhalgh: Cutting fares by 3% is possible by selling 7500 acres of TFL land which would raise £20 billion. Agreed with Boff about not negotiating directly with the unions and that driverless trains are inevitable.
Syed Kamall: Cut tube fares and the Treasury will see it as an excuse to cut more of TFL’s budget, halting essential public investment as a result. Force the heads of TFL and the unions to knock heads and thrash out a deal when problems arise.
Andrew Boff: Would get rid of Heathrow altogether if possible, so a third runway is a definite no-no. A long term view into the next century is needed and this calls for a new airport in the Thames Estuary.
Zac Goldsmith: His well-known pledge to trigger a by-election if Heathrow gets a third runway makes his position obvious. Wants a new Thames Estuary airport and considers competition between London airports to be the most important factor.
Syed Kamall: Let Londoners decide what they want to see happen, not the vested interests of Heathrow and Gatwick. Expanding Heathrow would be a mere sticking plaster so a new airport is the best way forward.
Andrew Boff: The wittiest candidate; he cleverly responded to a Telegraph journalist’s query on the lack of a female candidate by asking her whether Conservative Party HQ would seriously pick these four as the candidates if they had a choice, drawing howls of laughter. Boff is perhaps too radical and lacks the credentials of the others, but he has interesting ideas and his emphasis on tackling poverty in London should be at the forefront of the campaigns for all parties’ next year.
Syed Kamall: With his background as the son of Guyanese immigrants and an academic by trade, Kamall is not your archetypal Tory. He is an affable, likeable candidate whose desire to give more of a voice to Londoners has gained him a strong following as the second favourite. However, he perhaps lacks the charisma and recognition amongst the general public to go one step further and overhaul firm favourite Zac Goldsmith.
Stephen Greenhalgh: Places himself as the no-nonsense “man with a plan”. Greenhalgh’s calling card is his vast experience in both business and in politics, particularly the latter as leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council and the current Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime. Although clearly passionate about London, his uncompromising approach may be attractive to some but off-putting to others.
Zac Goldsmith: Goldsmith is the only candidate regarded as capable of challenging Labour favourite Tessa Jowell and was mobbed after the hustings ended. Undeniably suave, good-looking and with the name recognition to boot, it is easy to see why he is the frontrunner by a distance. Goldsmith’s rebellious nature also places him in the independent spirit of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson and his environmental credentials will broaden his appeal beyond Tory voters. Goldsmith will almost certainly win the Conservative nomination but whether he is too posh, rich and inexperienced to become the next Mayor of London is yet to be seen.