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Thousands of young people flock to London every year for the dream of opportunity and to start a new, better life for themselves and their families. But for many of those young people, the London dream swiftly becomes a nightmare. The stagnant jobs market; a rigged housing market; and a cost of living crisis make paying essential outgoings like energy bills and transport fares simply unbearable.
London is often described as a ‘Labour city’. With 44 MPs from a possible 74, and 12 London Assembly members from a 25, it you can see why. But Boris Johnson’s re-election in 2012, and seemingly endless popularity, should have served as a wake-up call to those in Labour HQ. How do we beat Boris or his Tory successor in 2016? How do we turn those forty something MPs into fifty or sixty and take a majority in the LA?
Yes, the candidates are important, and the team that London Labour is putting together for 2015 looks noticeably different and more representative. Candidates like Tulip Siddiq (Hampstead and Kilburn) and Sarah Sackman (Finchley & Golders Green) show that Labour continues to be the only party serious about redressing the gender imbalance in parliament and focusing on equality in our selections process.
But we can’t just hope that the diversity of our candidates will see us home in London in the next three years of elections. The message in the capital needs to be clearer than ever. Labour needs to offer a real and radical alternative to Londoners, then start thinking about achieving those goals from 2015 onwards. We need to be clear that when we talk about the cost of living, the cost of the Coalition and the cost of Cameron, we are actually talking about the economy. An economy that has flatlined for three years, and Coalition policies that have contributed to Wonga reporting record figures this year and zero-hour contracts becoming the workplace norm. The most important thing we can do for Londoners struggling on lower and middle incomes is to fix the most important thing in their lives: the roof over their head.
On housing, we can start by forcing the Government to scrap the failing ‘Help to Buy’ scheme. Lauded in the Budget as a helping hand for first-time buyers, in reality it threatens to further ramp up house prices and cut out those on lower and middle incomes. The only solution is a commitment to building more houses. We made a start in the summer by speaking out against ‘landbanking’ but we need to do more to encourage local authorities to get on with building. Until we start that housing construction project, more and more people will be left stranded in the never-ending cycle of paying inflated rents to private landlords for poor quality housing stock.
Boris Johnson launched his ‘Housing Covenant’ a few months ago, calling it “a simple concept based on fairness” and a serious piece of work designed to take on rogue landlords. But if you look at research compiled by charities like Shelter and pressure groups like Priced Out, it’s fairly obvious that he’s failed on both counts.
Tighter regulation is needed to stop Londoners getting ripped off by unchecked letting agents and it’s important that Jack Dromney has lead the way on this. In a recent survey from Labour, 94% of letting agents impose additional charges on tenants on top of the tenancy deposit and rent in advance. In London new tenants have to find more than £1,700 on average upfront, just to get a foot in the door of their new flat. We can’t just let the market go on exploiting people like this. It isn’t the Labour way.
London, the world’s favourite city after New York, has always counted on its residents’ resilience as its greatest attribute. That resilience has been built up over time from exposure to variety, change and new thinking. London survived the plague, the fire and the Luftwaffe; it’ll survive Boris Johnson and David Cameron. But now more than ever, Labour needs to show that it is on the side of everyday Londoners. The challenge is not to convince people that David Cameron is out of touch with them and that the cost of living crisis is real. The challenge is to convince them that Labour can do something about it.