Sunday, 10 May 2015

Rebuilding confidence in Labour's economic competence starts in London in 2015

Here are some more thoughts on how the 2015 General election plays out in London, with an eye on the Mayoral selections and elections:

London is our first real test
The first real test for Labour, with or without a new leader, is the London Mayoral selections in June and the Mayoral election in 2016.  Decisions the party membership makes here will signal early whether we learn the lessons from the 2015 defeat.  London is a platform for renewal, not a last loyal redoubt where we can angrily lead the fightback against the Tories: and repeat the mistakes we just made.  In any case, the power of the Mayor of London comes from consensus between boroughs and negotiation, not conflict, with central government and Whitehall.  Using City Hall as a convenient pulpit for the Left will fail Londoners, and ultimately the Labour Party. The eyes of the nation will be on us right from the start to see whether we 'get it'.  

Rebuilding confidence in our economic record starts in London
The 2016 London election offers a chance for Labour to elect a Mayor in the most economically prosperous part of the country and an opportunity to start rebuilding trust in how we run things.  Our candidate - I think this should be Tessa Jowell - should have an unashamedly pro-growth and pro-jobs pitch. They should focus on London's new strengths - tech and bio-med.  They should understand how the economy here is changing in both good ways (lots of opportunity) and bad (alienation of Londoners from best jobs, high costs of childcare), and react as per the ambition/compassion balance outlined by Tony Blair.  We should be saying something meaningful to the self-employed, the start-ups and small firms: not just through traditional funding levers but through a broader suite of initiatives like tax incentives, simplifying tax and providing cheaper office space, for example secured with the help of councils like they do at Camden Collective.  We need to say loudly and without equivocation that 'we are on your side and its also through you doing well that as many Londoners prosper as possible'.

This also matters to public services
This isn't only a question about the economy, public finances increasingly rely on local economic growth as central government grant is cut.  From the perspective of a Cabinet member for Finance: a Mayor of London who brings in more inward investment is good for our bottom line.  But they should go further and cajole and encourage London's boroughs (each the size of a small-to-medium English city and responsible for at least £1bn each per annum) and the local public sector to spend public money much more effectively. Camden's new outcomes-based budget approach and our use of technology with the NHS is an example where we can spend money more effectively, despite the cuts, and give public servants and citizens much more of a role in shaping their local services together.   


London is not a done deal
Finally, although Labour is ahead in London, it is by no means 'in the bag' - the Tories tend to win when the Lib Dem vote doesn't stand up (2008, 2012) so our candidate must be one who can reach out to more voters, and not live in a political comfort zone because they think 'London voted for Ed'.  It is worth noting that in London the Tories and UKIP combined got 1.5m votes: Boris Johnson polled just over 1m in 2008 and Labour has be never gained over 890k votes in any election so far.  From a North London perspective, Labour didn't win Hendon.  So called marginal Finchley didn't vote anywhere near that on election day. Hampstead & Kilburn was much more marginal than people expected, and dare I say the Tories would have come closer if they'd really treated it as a marginal.  Labour also polls more poorly against the Tories when the Lib Dem vote doesn't stand up.  As we - and the Lib Dems - just found, most Lib Dem voters don't like Labour more than they don't like the Tories.

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