A YouGov poll in August 2015 found that 42% of the public thought Tessa Jowell would be the best Labour Candidate for Mayor, Sadiq Khan was in second place with 21%. But the mayoral candidates are elected by their respective parties. London Labour party members had to vote for party leader and London Mayor on the same ballot paper, so Tessa Jowell’s candidacy was killed off by the same lurch to the left that saw Corbyn’s landslide victory as leader. Sadiq Khan won in the fifth round with 59% compared to Tessa Jowell’s 41%. It is likely he will face Zac Goldsmith as his Conservative opponent in the May 2016 election. YouGov polls suggest that Tessa Jowell had a six point lead over Goldsmith, whereas Khan trails him by eight points. Enthusiastic left wing Labour voters have probably put City Hall out of their reach for another four years, deeply ironic at a time when the Labour vote in London is probably as high as it has been for a generation, winning control of 21 out of the 32 boroughs in 2014 local elections and a swing of 3% in May 2015.
Very little is known about Zac Goldsmith’s likely policy on housing. He is billed broadly as a charismatic and attractive Boris Mk II with, arguably, a similar lack of political ideas. That is apart from opposition to Heathrow expansion and environmental campaigning. Mark Field, MP for the Cities of London & Westminster described Goldsmith as sharing “the stardust of celebrity” with the last two London mayors. “Zac fits the bill,” he said. “He is a big personality, much liked and maverick, but not too maverick, rather like Boris Johnson and Ken Livingston.” The 2015 Conservative manifesto promised little interference in the private rented sector, then George Osborne introduced a raft of unexpected new taxes, so having few specific policy commitments is a concern.
We know exactly where we stand with Sadiq Khan, housing is his priority and he outlined his policy goals recently in a piece for the New Statesman. He wants to set up a London Homes Team at City Hall to focus on bringing forward developments on land controlled by the Mayor. Projects would be undertaken by an in-house development team. He would also encourage new homes teams in London local authorities. Khan claims that £400m of the Mayor’s budget remains underspent and this will be used to build social housing. He would seek greater financial devolution to the Mayor, issue a London Home Bond and try to get pension funds to invest in housing.
Khan wants to set a 50% target for genuinely affordable housing – but provides no details on how he would achieve this or what he means by genuinely affordable. He wants to use planning powers to prevent buy to leave – where investors leave properties empty – and give first time buyers and local tenants first refusal on new homes.
Khan puts forward some good practical suggestions for helping London renters. He wants to set up a London wide not-for-profit social letting agency that will promote good practice amongst landlords and tenants including, where people want them, longer tenancies and what he calls stable rents, which would probably mean indexed annual rises. A London wide agency will be a massive endeavour and it is likely that such an agency would focus on helping tenants living on benefits who struggle to find suitable housing in the private sector since direct payment to the tenant has caused a huge increase in arrears for landlords.
Khan favours increased regulation, encouraging local authorities to set up licensing schemes. He says he wants to “crack down on rogue landlords by publishing a regular list of the best and worst landlords in the capital” and proposes cross borough action against the worst offenders. It’s hard to know what powers he would be using here and also how the list of best and worst will be arrived at.
A London living rent option will be offered for new affordable housing based on one third of renter’s incomes and “thus allowing renters to save for a deposit.” Finally Khan will pressure the government to give him the power to cap rents in London. If Jeremy Corbyn were in power he would be pushing at an open door, but it is unlikely that David Cameron’s government would sanction such a move. There’s no doubt that the resurgence of the Labour left has put rent control back on the agenda, the question is whether the Conservatives will feel prompted to respond with alternative proposals or, more likely, stick to their existing policy of allowing market forces to prevail.