56. The magic number that should condemn Boris Johnson to a huge defeat.

If policies alone decided Elections, Ken Livingstone would be romping home as the next London Mayor.

Instead he faces a photo finish with Tory Boris Johnson. ‘Look at Boris, isn’t he a laugh’ is no way to run one of the world’s five greatest cities. But his celebrity status only tells half the story: Johnson is a cunning and ambitious right wing Tory who is running an unremittingly negative campaign with such hugely powerful media support that even people on own Ken’s side start to believe some of the things that are said.

Ken has always had an extraordinary ability to define the policy needs of the moment. On fares, he saw that the need in the 1980s was to use spare capacity and get people back on the tube again; by 2000 the need was for massive investment in new services; and now in 2012 the need is to put money back into the pockets of struggling Londoners.

Similarly in housing. In his first Mayoralty, 2000-2008, Ken was not given significant housing powers until near the end, when he became responsible for housing strategy and was given considerable influence over the Homes and Communities Agency investment budget. But he realised from the start that housing was one of the great issues facing Londoners and set about using his general planning powers and the strength of his Leadership to create a pro-development and pro-affordable housing culture in London. Even the Olympic bid was turned into a housing development proposal. Recalcitrent developers and boroughs were pushed and pulled into place.

It didn’t always work, and the affordable housing numbers built up painfully slowly, but build up they did.  By 2008 Ken had his planning and housing strategy in place and he had won the biggest affordable investment programme in London’s history from Gordon Brown.

Boris Johnson has been dining out on Ken’s 2008-11 housing programme ever since he was elected, taking credit for completing homes for which he had no responsibility.  All the while he has been working to undermine the principles on which Ken’s programme was was based. Lags and lead-in times in housing are such that 2011-12 was the first year when housing development could be said to be the result of Johnson’s and Grant Shapps’ policies rather than Ken’s and Gordon Brown’s. And the result in the first 6 months of the year (the last available figures) was that the number of affordable housing starts in a city of millions was 56.

Ken’s Manifesto, published yesterday, contains housing policies that are again fit for the times. He will do everything in his power to get development, and affordable development in particular, moving again. He will do everything in his power to defend social tenants from an unprcedented attack.  But his practical focus is on the reality of housing in London’s rapidly expanding private rented sector. Unable to afford to buy and unable to access social housing, millions of Londoners are now dependent on private renting and are angry at the poor value for money they receive, with many paying out over half their income on somewhere to live.

The practicality of the Manifesto is demonstrated by the proposal to set up a London-wide not-for-profit lettings agency.  Livingstone’s boldness in terms of policy is shown by the fact that he is the first politician in many years that has dared to raise for debate the issue of rent control – and to undertake to campaign for a London Living Rent, mirroring the hugely successful campaign for a London Living Wage.

The last word goes to the Guardian’s London blogger Dave Hill:

Ken Livingstone’s programme for London is obliterating Boris Johnson’s in so many ways it’s almost embarrassing. I preferred Ken to Boris in 2008 too, but not by a massive margin. His vast policy superiority this time may turn out to be at its greatest in the area of housing.

London’s housing problems are not the sort that are best left to the market, which is the natural default position of the total Tory that Boris is. Housing policy is another compelling reason for Londoners to give one of their two mayoral votes to candidate Livingstone and neither to candidate Johnson.

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11 Responses to 56. The magic number that should condemn Boris Johnson to a huge defeat.

  1. Pingback: Housing starts and who to believe? | The Pint of Milk TestThe Pint of Milk Test

  2. daftaida says:

    Such nonsense really, the trusty old red one again or the predictably dissappointing blue one. We call this choice? Having been enamoured by Ken in the ’80s his later ensconcement saw a massive programme of CCTV cameras all over the shop. It’s like the punch and judy show and I wish people would wake up and grow up.

  3. Anon says:

    Ken has cost Londoners over £9 billions over the London 2012 Olympics. The East End has not had any regeneration and is plagues by high unemployment.

    Ken wanted the Olympics to boost his ego. If he had bothered to ring up the Mayor of other cities, he would have known any Olympic event bring in little benefits.

    • Olympics is supported by all main parties and Mayoral candidates. The financial benefits to the country are incalculable (literally) but substantial, and the East End is being slowly transformed because of Ken’s vision for the Olympic site/Lee Valley and the Thames Corridor generally. There will be a large legacy, included a lot of social housing we wouldn’t otherwise have. Ken, as he admits, has no interest in sport and won the Olympics because of its wider benefits for London. Ken left Olympic planning in a good state – everything built on time, to the surprise of the doubters – and even Boris hasn’t managed to screw it up.

      • daftaida says:

        Some would say that the financial benefits to the usual city crew are indeed incalculable but of any benefits to the people of this condem-nation are in the region of the red.

    • daftaida says:

      For a glimpse of how the East End was and may be again, read The People Living in The Abyss by Jack London (on line free) circa 1902 Edward’s Coronotion and a huge marxist influx into the East End of bolsheviks fleeing Tsar Nicholas’ justice. This within a population in extremis to be merchandised further via increased rents and lowered wages. Within this fetid slime, the wonderful Kray twins were spawned. Average age 30, 55% of children died before the age of 5. These conditions probably prevailed more or less up until the mid 1900s. Here the capital city of London conjures up stupendous wealth surrounded by the most vulnerable of their victims and not one penny escapes into their environment within it’s rank and polished boundaries. It’s simply obscene.

    • Paul: Yes, really.

      Funny how the HCA didn’t make the defence that ‘there are other affordable starts we just don’t count them’ in its official release. Even Grant Shapps, known to stretch a story here and there, didn’t try that one.
      56 is the HCA’s official figure for London affordable housing starts Apr-Sept 2011, the latest available figure in a time series going back many years. In all previous periods the numbers were in the multiple thousands. Jack Dromey is entitled to rely on the official statistics and so are we.
      The data can be found here: http://www.homesandcommunities.co.uk/sites/default/files/aboutus/official_statistics_nov_2011-tables.xls
      Nearly 4 years into Boris Johnson’s regime this figure is truly pathetic and would be funny if it wasn’t for the appalling impact it has on people waiting for a home.

  4. Heald says:

    What is the defnition of ‘housing starts’?

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