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September 2022’s policy round up: The Show Must Go On

September has been a packed month – a new Prime Minister, a new monarch, a new Met Police Commissioner and soon to be a new Transport Commissioner. It’s also party conference season, when many of London’s media, opinion formers and lobbyists leave the city to have meetings with people they see all the time back in the capital.

And related to party conferences – traditionally a seaside thing, more recently Birmingham, Manchester and Liverpool have hosted – but when was the last time Labour or Conservatives held their annual conference in London? Answer at the end.

Those Were The Days of Our Lives

The city pulled out all the stops to give the Queen a truly fitting send off. With full pomp and pageantry on a scale befitting someone who reached the ripe old age of 96 and spent seven decades on the throne, pictures were beamed around the world as the city became the focus of the world’s attention. Meticulous planning through Operation London Bridge, which brought together a wide range of public authorities, came together with very few problems. Many of us are likely to see something on the same scale again in our lifetimes, although attention will now be turning to the coronation of King Charles, most likely next year.

One Vision

Ex Greenwich councillor Liz Truss MP won the Tory leadership contest and became Prime Minister on 6 September in the Queen’s final public appearance. It was the most extraordinary two weeks in the role – dominated by the Queen’s death and the subsequent period of national mourning. The Prime Minister’s top team has been unveiled, and some have pointed to a corner of south-east London that is the spiritual home of Trussism.

You’re My Best Friend

London is suddenly back on the Government’s Christmas card list. The not-a-budget fiscal statement on 23 September outlined a Trussonomic vision for the nation. It included some of the biggest changes to taxation in many decades, and the fast number crunchers quickly demonstrated just how much the cuts to tax favoured London and the south-east. The anti-London mood of the last few years is suddenly a thing of the past and, while not admitting it publicly, the government’s economic policy has at its heart supercharging London’s economy to drive a dash for growth. It’s less trickle down economics, and more trickle out, with the hope that the benefits of a booming London ripples across the UK. Some are now rightfully arguing it’s time to dust down the shelved list of infrastructure projects and go a-knocking on the Treasury’s door. Might a Labour mayor now be a key alley in this strategy – Truss needing Sadiq Khan to help deliver a London firing on all cylinders?

Who Wants To Live Forever

Unusually, some northern politicians who don’t normally miss a trick in giving London a kicking were slow out of the blocks interpreting what this meant for their area and where the mini-budget left levelling up. With few explicit mentions (two only, I think) it’s not even clear whether levelling up survives at all – a smattering of investment zones and bypasses seen by many as not enough to shift the dial, especially in the face of the billions coming London’s way through tax cuts. While overall London is set to gain, many won’t feel the benefit – those on lowest incomes not feeling any immediate benefit from cuts to income tax and stamp duty and removing the cap on bankers bonuses. In fact, these could worsen inequality and worsen further the cost of living crisis. And with turmoil in the financial markets over the past days, and a growing political backlash, by the time you read this it’s not even clear if the package of measures unveiled will survive.

Under Pressure

It’s been a busy month on the policing front. Any hopes the new Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, had of a quiet few weeks to settle into the role were dashed. Top of his in tray, the community fallout from the shooting dead of Chris Kaba by a police officer and the subsequent IOPC investigation. Operation London Bridge saw a police operation like no other – officers from forces across the country were seen on the city’s streets, assisting the Met over the ten day period of mourning and coping with the influx of world leaders.  In the relative quiet of the past week, early media interviews with Mark show encouraging signs. He is certainly saying the right things – now the pressure will be on to act and act quickly to restore public confidence.

Save Me

Meanwhile, the inquiry commissioned by the former Home Secretary into the departure of the previous Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has reported. The Mayor was on the end of some criticism and he came out fighting in defence. Interestingly, the author – Sir Tom Winsor – recommended no changes to the process for hiring and firing commissioners. Some, like myself, find this baffling – if there’s one thing this episode showed it’s that the process is a muddle and Londoners aren’t clear who to hold to account for the police’s performance. A Mayor on the hook over police performance is still without any formal power to decide who is best to run the Met. While a story about messy processes, it’s not clear Londoners are listening or even care about how the Commissioner departed from the Met. With very few opinion formers and political leaders springing to Dame Cressida’s defence upon her departure, it seems many shared the view it was time for a change at the top.

Another One Bites the Dust

Surprising news out of TfL Towers with the announcement Andy Byford is to step down as Commissioner. He’s been in the role for just over two years and in his interviews after the news became public, he’s pointed to delivering on the two objectives he set out to achieve – securing a funding deal from the government and opening the Elizabeth Line. While some have pointed to the short period of time he has been in the job, given all that has happened over that time , it’ll feel like a decade of incidents and stress has been packed into two years. Runners and riders will emerge quickly, both internally and probably from across the globe – the chance to run TfL is the transport equivalent of managing Real Madrid or Liverpool. Budding model railway enthusiasts need not apply.

Honorable Mentions

The new regime in Westminster is making headlines – first with its plans to tackle the proliferation of American candy stores and now with proposals for seizing oligarchs homes for affordable housing.

Good news – Bond Street Elizabeth Line station is to finally open on 24 October, in time for Christmas shoppers to hit the West End. And TfL has reported the busiest Monday on the network since before the pandemic – perhaps a sign that returning to the office is a cheaper option than heating your home?

DLUHC (or whatever they’re called by the time you read this) published Green Belt statistics – one to digest to see how much has been lost (or in some cases added) over recent years.

The Mayor is launching a new podcast on air quality, and has immediately come in for some flak from those opposing the Silvertown Tunnel.

And the answer to the question “when was the last time Labour or Conservatives held their annual conference in London?” was Labour in 1974, pushed back to November to avoid the October General Election that year.

Nick Bowes is Chief Executive of Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter. Read more from him here.