What London needs from its mayor is “much less politics, much more action”. That was the pitch from Independent City Hall hopeful Rory Stewart, speaking yesterday to members of the London Chamber of Commerce & Industry. at The Ivy in Covent Garden.
The former MP, prisons minister, international development secretary and Conservative Party leadership contender, while acknowledging the irony of a former politician advocating less politics, didn’t spare either the current or previous incumbents.
The London mayoralty had not been run with “energy and attack” or with the necessary focus on “getting the basics right, making things work,” Stewart told representatives of some of London’s leading private sector employers.
Politicians had produced grand visions but “rarely talked about the signalling on the Piccadilly Line,” he said. In fact, politicians had too often seen themselves almost as “ceremonial” figures – “celebrity chief executives” making commitments but failing to act, in a political culture of “perpetually making excuses”.
Londoners should hold the Mayor to account on three simple questions, said Stewart: “Do I feel safer? Is my commute getting better? Is my housing more affordable?” And Mayor Khan was falling short.
On tackling knife crime, slogans such as “public health approach” and setting up new units were failing to address problems which cities such as New York and Los Angeles had solved in a few years, he said. “It’s largely about focusing on the details”, he added, calling for a boost to neighbourhood policing.
Khan had also taken his eye off the ball on transport, he said, failing to monitor Crossrail overruns, with other scheme budgets consequently taking a hit, and offering no clarity on Transport for London budgets or possible fares increases, as well as being “too passive” in response to Uber’s regulatory issues.
“A more active mayor would have been in there solving the problem,” Stewart said, suggesting that this week’s decision by TfL to refuse Uber’s licence was an appeal to a “partial constituency” and “not a mature way of running things”.
On housing, City Hall had “enormous powers that the Mayor is choosing not to use”, he said, pledging more investment, more intervention through mayoral development corporations and active use of compulsory purchase powers to unlock unused brownfield sites.
Highlighting positive examples of regeneration – the Packington estate in Islington, and Hackney’s mixed tenure high density development approach – he confirmed that he would not review the Green Belt, as recommended recently by inspectors’ scrutinising Mayor Khan’s draft new London Plan.
The inspectors’ findings that Khan’s 65,000 annual new homes targets was over-ambitious were “too pessimistic”, Stewart said. “I don’t agree with them. There is lots of room in London.”
The mayoral contender proved not above some political positioning himself, promising more detail to come on issues such as Heathrow’s third runway plans, which he supported as an MP, and where he has been meeting concerned residents. He has meetings lined up with campaigners against Mayor Khan’s controversial Silvertown Tunnel proposals too.
His hands-on pitch is also a call for balance. “As Mayor I’m determined to be very, very practical – not trying to deliver utopian solutions.” And finally, the former Conservative, who has had a family home in Kensington all his life, revealed that he has decided who he’s voting for on December 12, but wasn’t saying any more.
Photo: London Chamber.
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