London’s development dark age

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London’s development dark age

London politics is about to enter a challenging and potentially very dark age. Development needs to happen. Homes need to be built; Peter Bingle asks who is going to be brave enough to take control of the situation to deliver? 

A mood of gloom and despondency is descending over the Labour Party, the Tory Party and City Hall over next May’s local elections in London. Apart from the hard-left of the Labour Party there will be no winners, only losers, says Peter Bingle.

May 2018 was never likely to be a good night for the Tories in London. The days under Thatcher in the 1980s when a majority of London’s MPs were Tory are long gone. The Tory brand is toxic in London, more so than anywhere else in the country. Zac Goldsmith’s terrible mayoral campaign (run by Textor Crosby) didn’t help but the political rot had set in much earlier. With the exception that was Boris, Londoners and the Tory Party don’t much like each other. Even so, what is coming down the track is gruesome!

Senior Tories are preparing for a scenario in which after next May’s elections there will only be three Tory councils in London – Bexley, Bromley and Richmond. In the past, such pessimism would have been dismissed out of hand, the argument being that RBKC, Wandsworth and Westminster will always be Tory and probably Hillingdon too. Those days are well and truly gone. The old certainties are no more.

It is possible that the Tories in RBKC, Wandsworth and Westminster will be sufficiently spooked by the possibility of defeat that they will turn things around. It is by no means certain, however, as they have too many elderly councillors and no special local reasons for defying a negative political tsunami. Being radical seems strangely out of fashion.

The most radical Tory Council in London is Kingston and there are good reasons for optimism next May. There may even be a Tory gain in Sutton. For the rest, however, there are no obvious grounds for optimism. There will need to be some exceptional local campaigning to defy expectations.

So, gloom and despondency are prevalent in London Tory circles…

Interestingly, the same is true in sensible Labour London circles. Whilst marginal councils such as Croydon, Hammersmith & Fulham, Merton and Redbridge will no longer be marginal after next May’s elections, moderate and progressive Labour Groups across London are on the defensive against the seemingly unstoppable march of the hard-left.

The track record of many Labour councils in London is something that the party leadership should be proud of and promote. Yet in councils across London, Labour leaders are under threat of deselection, and hardworking Labour councillors are being deselected by hard left slates at their re-selection meetings. The media seems uninterested but the political ramifications of moderate and progressive councillors being sacked are massive.

No wonder there is a growing concern at City Hall. A Labour landslide next May will not deliver local councils who are supportive of Sadiq Khan’s housing policy agenda but Labour Groups who are anti-development, opposed to working with the private sector and hostile to large scale estate regeneration. The chances of Sadiq hitting the housing numbers expected of him by DCLG will simply evaporate.

This poses a real problem for the government. Faced with a local political mood in London which is opposed to development it may decide that direct intervention is required. There are some London councils which deliver now and will continue to deliver post May 2018. Why not just set them free and empower them to do even better? Those London councils who are opposed to development may need to have their planning powers transferred to an organisation that is committed to delivering. Is this City Hall or is it the HCA under the leadership of Sir Edward Lister? Fascinating stuff …

London politics is about to enter a very challenging and potentially very dark age. Development needs to happen. Homes need to be built. Who is going to be brave enough to take control of the situation to deliver? Sadiq Khan or Sajid Javid? We will know soon enough…

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  • Peter Bingle
    Peter Bingle
    Peter is the Founder of Terrapin Communications. With a career in politics and communications that has spanned almost four decades, he is one of the country's leading public affairs practitioners. His career has seen him advise many top companies, including McDonald’s, HSBC, L’Oreal, Permira, Motorola, Camelot, Rolls Royce & Kellogg's.
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