A London manifesto should be about giving Londoners and their government the power to do more things for themselves, not just about central government doing things for Londoners.
The Labour Party has today published a London manifesto – so far the only one of the main UK-wide parties to do so. The party’s national manifesto had remarkably little to say about London. The capital might be home to 13 per cent of Brits, but it was only mentioned twice and neither mention was of any substance.
Clearly there are rather more mentions and commitments to London in today’s document. But what does it all amount to?
Sadiq Khan has written the foreword to the manifesto, but this is not the manifesto that he would have written if he had control over the pen. Over the last four years, the Mayor of London has called for a comprehensive package of devolutionary measures, including control of property taxes, power to set a statutory London minimum wage, more power over NHS services and education and the right to issue London work visas, if Brexit goes through. He has also called for central government investment in a range of infrastructure projects, including Crossrail 2, the Bakerloo line extension, and South London’s rail network, none of which get a mention in today’s publication.
This, in short, is not so much a London manifesto, as a London cut of Labour’s national manifesto. Labour has committed to giving all over 75s a free TV licence and it follows that 370,000 London households will get a free TV licence, etc. It’s as if the Labour Party has invested in a manifesto slicing algorithm.
The results are mixed.
If Labour were to manage to deliver on its commitment to deliver 35,000 council homes, this would certainly help address London’s housing affordability issues and the promise to help 3.4 million homes with further energy-saving measures will assist with heating bills and climate change. The commitment to end rough sleeping speaks to a major London issue. And promises of additional free childcare will be welcome in a city with exceptionally high childcare costs.
But much in the manifesto fails to speak to many of London’s issues, concerns and priorities.
Much is made of the commitment to clean up London’s air by supporting the take-up of electric cars – but the emphasis in Sadiq’s Transport Strategy is on reducing car reliance. What London really needs is more control over road and fuel charges.
It is also welcome that a Labour government would restore council funding to 2010 levels. Yet the Mayor and London Councils would like the power to add extra council tax bands onto London’s most valuable houses and a return to revenue funding for Transport for London. The manifesto is silent on both counts. Labour’s promise to rejuvenate industry has less relevance for a city that relies on services and its promise to create ten new national parks is hardly going to resonate with London voters, even if, as the London manifesto suggests, they include parks in the Chilterns and Wessex.
It is good to see a party publish a regional manifesto, but if the other parties are going to follow suit then they’d be wise not to take the route of another a vintage centralist (as distinct from decentralist) Westminster party act. A London manifesto should be about giving Londoners and their government the power to do more things for themselves, not just about central government doing things for Londoners.