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Will London have an Asian Mayor?

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London is set for its third directly elected Mayor on 5th May this year. In addition, the voters will also elect the 25 members of the London Assembly….writes By Buddhdev Pandya MBE

Boris Sadik Zac CaricarturesA generation of Londoners, will miss out on the two of the most politically charismatic characters as the London Mayors, Ken Livingston (Labour) and Boris Johnson (conservative).

Issues have moved on from ‘can’t pay, won’t pay’ soundbites to introduction of the congestion charges and oyster cards that has significantly improved the travel experience for Londoners.

The new structure that provides for a directly elected Mayor has somewhat, a different dynamics and powerbase that drives the decision making process. Though engagement of the public looks more interactive, the control factor is significantly reduced.

The public and private partnership has shifted a number of goal posts. Its relevance is compounded by mergers and overlapping arrangements of services across the London Boroughs that has since emerged.  Perhaps this applies to the Borough elections too! By now the voters are used to the new system and culture shift under the new code of governance – the directly elected Mayor.

Some recent survey indicates a shift from the 2012 election, when Londoners placed housing fourth after jobs, crime and transport as their top concerns. Then, came Housing, followed by Immigration, security from terrorism and Health care.

Sadiq Khan MP, Labour Party's mayoral candidate
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour Party’s mayoral candidate

Yet even today, Housing consistently remains as the top priorities for the Mayor and city government. Housing 67%, Transport 51%, Health (35%), policing (31%) and economic development and regeneration (26%) are the rating goes in popularity of issues.

On housing, the focus is about affordable rather than the state providing public sector housing. The reports from Department of Communities and Local Government states that during 2015, London built 24,620 new houses.

Like a musician, who makes the lyrics come alive, during most elections, it is the candidates who can make issues more high profiled that seem more relevant and popular. It is all about sound bites and slogans around the reality that is often shrouded under a layer of statistics and policies.

Sadiq Khan, one of the hopeful from the labour Party has placed housing at the top of his London mayoral campaign. He is pledging to bring in a 50% affordable housing target with firm rules for developers to ensure that new homes built are “genuinely affordable”. He also promises to protect the Green Belt to allow the new developments on the city’s many brownfield sites.

The Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith vision is still left to immerge with some clarity on housing issue. His starting point is focused on narrowing the gap of supply and demands based on consultations and community consent.

In January this year, Zac said, “I set out my Action Plan for a Greater London: more homes, better transport, cleaner air and safer streets. There can be no doubt that housing is the number one priority”.

Sadiq Khan MP, Labour Party's mayoral candidate
Sadiq Khan MP, Labour Party’s mayoral candidate

His view is that in London, if you are disadvantaged enough to qualify for social housing or rich enough to buy, you’re OK. For others, he thinks they are on their own. One of his solution for closing the gap between supply and demand is to build more on the mayoral land – as many as 30,000 – that can only be purchased by those who have lived or worked in London for at least three years and do not already own a home.

May be, he might struggle to convince many of the potential investors and even the voters that who would not qualify under his scheme.  He relies on the Bill as an MP to secure a deal that would means that every high value council house sold will be replaced by two new affordable homes in London.

Sadiq, may also will have to do lot of convincing the economists how he would ensure that Londoners are given priority for new homes rather than overseas investors. Particularly, in a market driven environment that depends upon investors who are not exclusively part of the state finances.

There is also potential for impact on rates and taxpayers if Sadiq is to introduce London Living Rent homes, pegging rents to a third of the local average wage.

The Lib-Dem are claiming a comeback revival of their political fortune. Their mayoral candidate Caroline Pidgeon is also promising `an Olympic effort’ where she hopes to build 200,000 new homes over a four-year term including 50,000 directly delivered by the mayor.

iimages_OS_zacSikh-8325In many marginal seats, there are some indications that the Tories have been closing to catching up with Labour in capturing the Indian vote. The party has appointed a number of Asians as ministers at the centre; moving in a direction to shed the ‘nasty party’ tag.

This may help Zac, with his German Jewish ethnicity.  While much is talked in private about Sadiq’s Pakistani origin, Zac can flag out his association with Indians in many ways. Including meeting the Prime Minister of India.

There is no escape from ‘race card’ politics being played. Indeed, it is linked to illegal or mass numbers in immigration. Given the tightening of immigration rules, London, the capital city of Britain is an attractive destination for many from the European Union. The surrounding boroughs also take the many of these unfortunate misplaced people longing for an anchor for their lives.

The pattern of voting among the ethnic memories have significantly changed over the years. Largely it depends on local candidates and conditions as well as the political party’s loyalties do play more than just community ‘ghetto’ mentality in general.

London’s prosperity depends on our city remaining an environment in which business is supported to grow and thrive. While Zac with his Conservative tag would be seen as natural champion of the business interests, Sadiq is also seen as a pro-business in certain quarters. The shadow of the current leadership of his party – somewhat ‘left-wing’ strike, may have some impact on the way the City thinks about him!

Finally, the transport is the real bread and butter issue for the London mayors.  Here the Mayor controls a huge budget, and the decisions made has a real and immediate difference to Londoners’ lives.

Sadiq reiterated many of his previous ideas, such as his tube fares freeze and the one-hour bus hopper ticket. Zac has mostly focussed on the black hole of £1.9bn in London’s finances that would be left by a fares freeze.

iimages_OS_zacSikh-6683In many aspects, they virtually have similarities, though they would not accept it, which frustrates the debate, particularly when both of them support expanding the network through Crossrail, protecting the Freedom Pass for pensioners. They also have same ideas and support cycling, have potential for introducing the night tube, improving air quality, and opposing Heathrow expansion. Expectations that the two leading contenders would be brave enough to come up with some new innovative ideas is a miss.

The previous EU debate had costed the Tories dearly. It divided their troops and the party lost elections.  Now, once gain the issue is back in the frame with a referendum debate gathering momentum.

It is too early to predict the potential impact for the Mayoral elections. However, a report in the Parliament suggested that a record 559,543 people from European countries outside the UK are registered to vote in the capital; London boroughs with the largest number of European citizens are Ealing (31,339), Lambeth (28,035) and Newham (25,562). If Britain opts to leaves, these people will have to have special visas to remain the country or simply be deported!

The Tory Prime Minister David Cameron is leading the campaign to remain in Europe, opposing him is their own Zac Goldsmith who has backed the Brexit group. The Tooting Labour MP Mr Khan thinks that the desire to leave Europe poses a serious threat to Londoners’ jobs, livelihood and security.

Most polls indicate the election battle is narrowing between the two rivals; Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith. All others are training behind hugely to be of any significance.

Profiling the candidates from the main political parties; Zac Goldsmith is a Tory MP for Richmond Park, known his green credentials and often holding his own against the party line. Zac is son of billionaire James Goldsmith, who founded Eurosceptic Referendum Party.

Sadiq Khan is a Labour MP for Tooting, formerly a solicitor specialising in human rights and has held a cabinet position in the past, son of a bus driver and on the social democratic wing of his party. Yet he’s wooed business in his bid for City Hall and wants to freeze London transport fares. In 2016, he won the Politician of the Year at the British Muslim Awards.

iimages_OS_zacSikh-6537Caroline Pidgeon is Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the London Assembly, a former councillor in Southwark. She’s chaired the London Assembly’s Transport committee and is a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as well as the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Her campaign has focussed on tackling high rents, flexible and affordable childcare, air pollution and transport fares.

Others include; Sian Berry who is Camden’s Green councillor, Peter Whittle who represents The UK Independence Party and its culture spokesman, George Galloway who is the former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow as well as Bradford West for Respect and David Furness who is the organiser of the British National Party’s organiser in west London. Others still at the bottom of the polls are John Zylinski, Paul Golding, Lee Eli Harris, Sophie Walker and Ankit Love.

If the polls are anything to go by in predicting the potential winner, the end of March suggests that the Labour candidates seems to have picked up lead over the Conservative. Others are trailing behind in mostly a single figure to be of significance for the debate.

London is the world’s leading financial centre for international business and commerce and is one of the “command centres” for the global economy. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, “As far as India is concerned, if there is an entry point for us to the European Union that is the UK, that is Great Britain. A London Mayor with Eurosceptic preference would put a different complexion on the face of the London – seen by some as the gateway to Europe.

Sadiq Khan, a lawyer with experience as Minister of State for Communities and Secretary of State for transport would be an interesting choice for the Londoners. It would put some redness in the chicks of the Labour party seeking identity between its recent past under New Labour and Social democratic values. At least, the Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn would smell first test of fresh revival for his political pilgrimage.