Ealing councillor Joy Morrissey is probably the least known of the three politicians from whom London Conservatives will choose their candidate for the 2020 London Mayor election, almost certainly to challenge Sadiq Khan. Born in the US, she worked in the film industry before moving to London eight years ago to do a masters at the LSE. She now works for the Centre for Social Justice and on the staff of Will Quince MP. Morrissey is also member of the Conservative Policy Forum. She contested Ealing Central and Action at last year’s general election, losing to Labour incumbent Rupa Huq. We met at the Parcel Yard cafe bar at King’s Cross station.
Question: You’ve been stressing the need for more affordable housing. What kind of affordable housing do you have in mind and how would you do better than the present mayor?
Answer: We have multi-tiered problem with the housing market. It’s not just one kind of affordable housing that we need. I wrote for the Telegraph about wanting to solve the family homelessness crisis in London, with thousands and thousands of people trapped in temporary accommodation and ideas for the private sector developing long-term, secure private renting. But I’m also interested in expanding shared ownership for first time buyers people my age and younger who are working professionally and have no hope in London of getting on the housing ladder. Right now it’s difficult to access those [shared ownership] schemes and it’s very hard to find the financing, so I’m working with some private investors to see if we can come up with a way of creating a sort of investing pool that people can come to more readily.
I want to see a mixture of affordable housing, but also private rented sector and social rented sector and a wide variety of houses being built. I would also like to see more housing association homes built, but I would like to see those with the eventual right to buy. What I’m looking at for public-private partnerships and for community trusts and things like that is a way for councils to take the land that they own and work with private investors to set up those long term social rents and private rents. If you look at what Barking & Dagenham are doing, they have a very specific model of working with public sector properties but then creating their own investment corporations. It’s given people long term housing through a different model.
Q: When Conservative politicians talk about affordable housing they often place the emphasis on shared ownership properties for middle-income earners, rather than social housing. Where do you stand on what we might call traditional social housing?
A: It’s important to understand the vastness and diversity of housing inequality in London, but I’m always coming at it with a Conservative perspective. It’s looking at how we build the most homes we possibly can and the most different forms of housing, so that it actually benefits Londoners, not the developers.
Q: You’ve talked about free market solutions to the problems, but the current Mayor has been quite successful at getting the government to give him money to allocate to affordable housing providers. Surely as Mayor you would be lobbying national government, including a Conservative one, for more money to spend on housing. You wouldn’t say no to it, would you?
A: Who would ever say no? But I don’t want to see higher taxation. I’d like to see more value for money. My question is what value are we getting out of the money that the current Labour mayor is investing. Where are we seeing more housing? Where is this investment paying off?
Q: Are you saying that a more creative and imaginative approach to the relationship with the private sector would produce more affordability of various kinds?
A: Yes. Exactly. Getting as much investment as possible in and cutting through the red tape to get more houses built.
Q: What’s Sadiq Khan doing wrong?
A: There are things that can look good in a flashy press release but don’t reflect the behind the scenes grind of what needs to happen to take care of an issue. For example, we have a large amount of unused industrial land and if we had a Docklands Development Corporation, approach where land is bought by London and the government and re-zoned for housing, and Transport for London provided the transport links, which is using the biggest devolved budget the Mayor has.
Q: But the present mayor would say that he is doing all that. What would be the difference? Would it be in the implementation?
A: Yes. I’m not held back by Labour ideas about not using the private sector. There’s lots of that Left ideology around right now. I want to see what’s best for London above all else. I want to see more homes for people of my age, I want to see people happy and safe on the streets and being able to get to work easily and being able to come home from work to a comfortable home. That is the mission for the Mayor and that is what I would be focussed on delivering.
Q: At a conference a few weeks ago, TfL commissioner Mike Brown described the fact that London is now the only major world city receiving no operational grant from central government as “nuts”. Is he right?
A: I think right now the biggest of issue is the minor [financial] loss we are making on each [public transport] journey. So the first thing we have to do is make it more productive and make a slight profit on each journey. We need to get back to that. We need to look at efficiency and how to make TfL profitable again so that we can expand the infrastructure.
Q: Does that mean putting fares up?
A: We have to be realistic about the fact that the current mayor’s fares freeze and a decrease in the number of people riding on the buses and the Tube has meant we’re running at a loss. Even Ken Livingstone raised fares. It’s about being realistic about the economy and what you can deliver. Do we want TfL lines expanded, do we want to see better transport links to unused brownfield sites?
Q: It sounds to me that you are content with the idea of TfL being self-financing operationally and wouldn’t take issue with the government over grant funding.
A: Well, I’m always going to beg for as much money as possible. Let’s be fair here. As Mayor I would always put London first at all times.
Q: So if you become mayor in two years’ time, you would ask the government to restore some operational funding for TfL, would you?
A: A lot of our tax base goes to paying for everywhere else, so I’m always going to advocate the best deal for Londoners across the board. That would be my job. But I’m thinking about how that conversation might go. I’ve a feeling they might say, fix your black hole, get your house in order before we throw money in.
Q: The other big area of mayoral responsibility is policing. You’ve spoken a lot about gangs and knives, those particular things that are worrying people a lot at the moment. How would your approach to these issues improve on what is happening under Sadiq Khan?
A: First of all, I would re-prioritise frontline policing. I’ve been spending a lot of time speaking to individual Met officers but also to ex-gang members, people working with charities and in criminal justice to see what both sides are saying about the problem. If we’re looking at gangs, they are targeting young people in schools, and a lot of people carrying knives are doing it in a defensive way. So you have the gang enforcers and the drug dealers carrying knives and everyone else carrying them for defence. I would like to see police officers brought back to high schools again. I know that knife arches are very controversial, but it’s a preventative measure that means everyone can go to school safely or go on the Tube safely. Also, seeing that there is investment in holistic care for young people.
Gang leaders are targeting kids on estates. At the age of ten you are already being spotted, you are already being targeted. There are estates now that people don’t even feel they can go on to. Even the police feel that way. And it wasn’t like that five years ago. The gang culture has increased so much. Even when parents complain, saying their child is being harassed or targeted, no one is doing anything. Also, no one is being prosecuted. It’s sort of like saying we want to stop drink driving but we can’t use breathalysers and you can’t really do anything until someone has crashed a car.
We can bring in Section 60 [stop and search powers] in order to help the police to do their job, but I would say it’s even more the courts than anything. I’ve heard some police officers say they don’t even bother now charging for certain crimes because they usually get thrown out, so it’s not even worth them doing it any more. The gangs know it too. And you have to look at what the police now have to deal with. They are almost like social services. I had an officer telling me about how they had to take care of an infant because the council had clocked off. They have this whole remit that stops them from walking around on the streets, engaging with people and stopping the violence.
Q: What practical ways could you as Mayor help police officers deal with those sorts of difficulties?
A: New York has a lower murder rate than us now, and they’ve taken that very rapid response frontline approach and there’s also a very quick, almost mobile, prosecution network so you have this efficiency of joined up services. I know this is beyond what the London Mayor can do, but I could at least advocate for that approach, to make a sort of mobilised task force where we can target specific areas. There are hot spots. If you look at the stats, if you look at where knife crime, moped crime and acid attacks are happening, it is in very specific areas at specific times.
Q: Would that entail moving officers from, say, Bromley so that more can be on the ground in Haringey?
A: I would still want to keep those safer neighbourhood police and PCSOs – people that are on the beat. But I’m looking at having a strategic rapid response.
Q: Are we talking about SWAT teams?
A: Not SWAT teams. It’s about having the ability to work in an efficient way. Police don’t speak to each other enough, and gangs know this. That’s why you have an issue with county lines – London gangs going into Essex and taking over a whole housing estate, because it’s so easy. But the same is true even within the Met itself. So it’s about making the Met more operationally efficient so that police officers can actually do their job, and it’s about putting money into charities such as Gangs United that are doing a fantastic job solving problems, engaging with gang leaders and finding a lot of solutions that could be replicated but they don’t have the funding. The difference between my approach and maybe that of others is that I would be the sort of Mayor who’s behind the scenes grinding away at trying to deal with some of these things.
Q: You’ve talked about wanting more electric vehicles, including buses. Pollution maps from the 2015 bus strike showed an extraordinary drop in the level of pollution when many fewer buses were on the roads. But they are expensive. How would get more of them?
A: This might need a grant from the government! But seriously, I’d like to see the money the Mayor is spending on the Ultra Low Emission Zone going into electric buses. If buses are the actual issue with pollution, why are we not tackling them more? I’d like to see how we can move strategically towards electric buses and also electric black cabs as well. Let’s just get to the heart of it. Black cabs were exempt from the T-charge. I found that interesting – everyone pays the T-charge except the black cabs! Also, we’re not using buses as much as we were. We have to look at how we utilise buses. What I’d love to see is London moving faster than the horse and carriage, which is how slow it is in some parts right now.
Q: You mentioned congestion charging. There are very good conservative economic arguments for having more of it. However, plenty of Tory London Assembly Members think it isn’t doing much good we should just get rid of it. Where do you stand?
A: I take your point on that, but I’m also a free market person. We have the congestion charge zone, and I think it’s working at its current level. I like it that it doesn’t operate at weekends so families can come and to go to the zoo and so on.
Q: There’s a body of opinion, including borough leaders and business property people, who think Sadiq is a good at communicating with the voters but quite difficult for people to get to see. That said, each Mayor has organised his administration in different ways and each has had its critics. How would you go about it?
A: I’m a grassroots person. I wonder how can I find the right solution for London if I’m not speaking to the council leaders? Whether they are Labour or Conservative, I’m going to need to speak to them. You can’t have what happened with Oxford Street again and again and again. Borough leaders have huge amounts of devolved powers, and as a councillor I do understand that. As London Mayor, only really transport compares. For me what’s most important is that efficiency is created in London: more safety, better transport and more housing. That means you’re going to have to interact with lots of different people and be available. I’m not a showy politician.
Q: Maybe you need some showing off lessons.
A: I’ve had some criticism for traveling all over London talking to various grassroots groups, but that is who I am.
Q: You mentioned Oxford Street, which seemed to have gone pretty smoothly until Westminster pulled the plug because they were scared of losing votes.
A: I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think the Mayor bothered to consult with the leader of the council and I think there have been issues with Labour council leaders too. If you look at Boris [Johnson] he did a lot of consulting with Labour and Conservative councils. You look at Old Oak Common, that was a huge feat of engaging with a number of boroughs.
Q: I’m familiar with your disagreement with Rupa Huq over what sort of Leave supporter you were. But why did you opt to vote to leave the European Union?
A: Well, what we’re saying now is that Brexit is happening and I want to engage with everyone on every level on how we get the best deal for London, how we keep London as the financial centre of the world, how can we regulate in a way that means we attract more investment. I’d love to commission a study into how we get the most economic value and the best ideas for coming out of Brexit.
Q: You sound as you have some doubts about the whole thing. You seem to be saying, how can we make the best of it rather than yes, this will be really good for us.
A: I have to be mindful of the fact that the majority of London voted to Remain.
Q: But you voted to Leave, so you must think it’s better to be out than in.
A: I objected to the lack of democratic accountability in Brussels.
Q: Why should Conservative voters prefer you to Shaun Bailey or Andrew Boff?
A: I want to keep this as positive as possible.
Q: I know. But you’ve got to say why you’re better.
A: I’m interested in delivering things that actually make London a better place. I’m wedded to practical solutions and I have a track record of delivering those things – cutting through the red tape and being able to advocate and to listen to people. I haven’t been in City Hall [as an AM] but I don’t think negates me from being able to deliver on things. I think it means I understand. I’m a normal Londoner. I’m someone who struggles to just get by. I’m balancing work and a family and everything else and so I understand acutely what many people in London are going through.
Q: So you’ve got empathy and you’ve got practicality?
Q: Does being a woman mean you could cut through to London voters in a contest with Sadiq in a way that a male candidate couldn’t?
A: I think so. We’ve never had a woman in the final three [shortlisted candidates] before and I think there’s a lot about London that a female, a mother, can understand – the struggle of working, trying to provide for your child, wanting to see better life chances for women, for mothers, for children in schools. And who do gang leaders and drug dealers most fear? It’s their mother! I think this female voice could bring a whole other dimension to City Hall.
Joy Morrissey tweets here.
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