This month saw the souring of new beginnings as unexpected political turmoil dominated the news agenda (again). Our Chief Executive Nick Bowes offers his thoughts on October’s frenzy:
Talk about a moveable feast! Given the frenetic pace of politics at the moment, some of the content will be overtaken by events by the time you read the newsletter. I apologise on behalf of a chaotic Westminster – hopefully normal service is resumed shortly.
Here Comes the Sunak
New boss comes in, takes over from a charismatic predecessor who’d had some great successes, publicly disses their record and turns upside down previous ways of working. But new person gets off to poor start, performances are bad and get worse. Support drains away and dissent spills out into the open. Finally, an internal revolt sees boss resign after just 44 days.
Brian Clough’s infamous 44 days in charge of Leeds United were rather stormy. And you thought I was talking about Liz Truss’s time as PM. But there are real parallels between the two. After leaving Leeds, Clough went on to even greater success, steering Nottingham Forest to league and European glory. What would the political equivalent for Liz Truss’s future be?
In all seriousness, we are now on our third fourth fifth Prime Minister in 6 years – a period of political instability unprecedented in modern times. For comparison’s sake, it took me until I was 21 to see my fifth PM*. Nevertheless, congratulations to Rishi Sunak on becoming PM.
*Harold Wilson was my first. Work that one out.
You Never Give Me Your Money
What this means for London will become apparent quickly. Just as our hopes were raised by the brief Truss-Kwarteng rekindled love for London’s success, all eyes will be on whether this continues under the new administration. The previous three Prime Ministers had strong links to London – May and Truss having been local councillors, Boris as Mayor and an MP in the city. Sunak’s links are less strong.
But two fundamentals remain unchanged. The economy is in bad shape, so London’s success matters more than ever if the country is to pay its way in the world. And second, the government still have a hefty majority which means an early election isn’t necessary – and the key battleground seats continue to be beyond the M25, and not in London.
In the past, Rishi has shown little appetite for levelling up (which had pretty much fallen out of favour under Truss) and the lack of devolution in the White Paper was seen as down to the Treasury (under his watch) refusing to let go of any powers. Will it survive? Interestingly, it got a mention in his first speech from Downing Street (UPDATE: Michael Gove reappointed to the levelling up role – let battle recommence with the Treasury on devolution). Reports suggest another flagship Truss policy, investment zones, are heading for the scrap heap, just as London reportedly submits its bids.
Truss’s mini-budget (that wasn’t a budget) was a 180 degree turn on Johnson’s approach, with London at the heart of a dash for growth. But the new chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has unpicked most of those policies, with the stamp duty cut one of the few bits remaining. Just as I warned at the time, the Treasury hated tax free shopping for tourists and would seek to get rid of it at the first opportunity they had – I just didn’t realise it would come quite so quickly. The New West End Company, Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea councils will all be livid.
Ominously in Hunt’s statements have been the implicit threats that deep public spending cuts will be needed. Local authorities, the NHS, schools and the GLA will all be alarmed at this. With interest rates on the rise and more financial market uncertainty feared, the question will be: is any looming recession more like 1990 (when London/SE were whacked hardest) or 2008 (when London experienced a mere blip)?
Trivia question for this month – New Prime Ministers are like buses – you wait ages for one to come, then you get five in quick succession. But do you know which London bus route is the slowest, with an average speed of 6.4mph across its journey between West and Central London?
Carry That Weight
Baroness Louise Casey’s interim report has landed, and what a shocker it was for the Met Police. If you’re a public authority with something to hide, then Louise is the last person you’d want sent in to investigate – her reputation for getting to the truth is fearsome. And that’s precisely what happened, with some appalling findings about the woefully inadequate and snail’s pace disciplinary procedures. What is refreshing is hearing the new Met Commissioner acknowledge the scale of the problem and apologise to Londoners. This feels like the first time in a generation Londoners have heard such candidness from their police chief. The difficult bit comes next – exactly how Sir Mark Rowley delivers the culture change and restore the public’s confidence will be a heavy burden to carry.
I Want ULEZ
Over at City Hall, and a ferocious row has broken out about the consultation on the Mayor’s plans to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone to the whole of London. The Telegraph reported, after a leak of the consultation responses, that two-thirds were against expansion and suggested those whose views opposed the proposal were removed from the consultation process. Conservatives on the London Assembly are fiercely opposing the Mayor’s plans, jumping on the Telegraph story, arguing two-thirds of Londoners have voted (NB – consultations are not a referendum) against ULEX expansion.
Tory AMs have nevertheless launched an investigation into these accusations, while some outer London MPs joined forces to call for a delayed introduction. The Mayor hit back with a poll showing 51% of Londoners supported the expansion. Subsequently, the Mayor has hinted it is not definite he’ll go ahead with his plans, leaving a chink of light for those in opposition.
Centre for London support measures that clean up the city’s air. But, with ULEZ and the Congestion Charge outdated and clunky mechanisms for achieving this, we favour a pay per mile smart road user charging scheme, which would be fairer, and done properly could deliver air quality improvements, reduced congestion, expanded active travel and a substantial income stream for TfL. While TfL have started preliminary work, it is going to take great political courage for any prospective Mayoral candidate to commit to introducing this at the 2024 elections.
On 1 November is our annual London Conference, this year taking place at Senate House, University of London. We will be grappling with the question ‘Does London Work?’, and will be joined by the Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London who’ll deliver a keynote address, and the Minister for London Paul Scully MP as well as a range of panel discussions on the big challenges of making London work for everyone in the city and the rest of the country. If you want to join us and haven’t yet signed up, please do so here.
Numbers on the tube and Elizabeth Line reached their highest levels since pre pandemic, reflecting the steady increase in workers returning to the office. Might the prospect of heating homes during the winter see this increase yet further? At the other end of the temperature spectrum, the Mayor published analysis of the impact July’s record-breaking 40C heat had on the city.
Almost daily coverage is cataloguing the frenetic state of London’s private rental sector, with a large surge in those seeking rentals, a reported u-turn on the banning of no fault evictions (with uncertainty as to the new Prime Minister’s views on this), polling showing the political dangers of ignoring private renters, and the latest figures showing London’s rents rising by the most ever recorded for any region.
Turns out, despite Ministers extolling the virtues of the regeneration of King’s Cross as a tool of levelling up the country, it’s not quite as easy to recreate it across the UK as it might seem. And analysis of 20,000 people for their views on levelling up showed frustrations as much with intra as well as inter-regional differences.
Poverty amongst older Londoners is higher than in any other part of the country, and is worse than it was a decade ago. Seven of the top 20 local authorities most vulnerable to food poverty are in London, with some calling for a London Childhood Hunger Commission.
And the answer to the trivia question is (according to TfL) the number 11 bus, which operates between Fulham Broadway and Liverpool Street.