Article by GLA Conservatives' Leader Susan Hall AM first published by Conservative Home.
I am deeply honoured to have been elected by my colleagues, as the new Leader of the Conservative Group, on the London Assembly. I certainly have big shoes to fill; Gareth Bacon has been an exemplary and effective Leader who will make a first-class MP for Orpington.
I am acutely conscious that I have become Leader at an extraordinarily important juncture for our party and city. We needn’t remind ourselves that in May, Londoners will decide whether they want four more years of Sadiq Khan running our city or change with Shaun Bailey. Londoners will also be electing a new group of Assembly Members to hold the Mayor to account – whoever that is.
In the run-up to this crucially important election, our Conservative Group at City Hall will be focussing relentlessly on two things: highlighting Sadiq Khan’s record as Mayor of London, and setting out an alternative and positive vision for London.
There can be no doubt that Sadiq Khan’s tenure as Mayor has taken our city backwards rather than forwards. Over the coming weeks and months, the whole of Khan’s Mayoralty will be picked apart and evaluated, but last year tells you everything you need to know about this Mayor’s inability to run our city competently. In the last full year before the election, you would have thought that Khan would have pulled out all of the stops and shifted his performance up a gear. But instead, 2019 was the year when Khan’s mayoralty took a nosedive.
The first job of the Mayor of London is to keep our city safe, and last year showed that Sadiq Khan simply isn’t up to this job. As of mid-December, a record 142 people had been murdered on the streets of London, up from 133 in 2018. Similarly, the deeply concerning surge in knife crime showed no sign of abating, with the number of offences increasing by nearly 1,000. The sad reality is that an ever-increasing number of young Londoners are being drawn into a life of crime, becoming both the perpetrators and victims of heinous violence. This is nothing less than an utterly tragic trend, and one which Sadiq Khan has entirely failed to reverse.
Regrettably, we have a Mayor who is complacent in the face of violent crime. He has consistently and perversely chosen to spend tens of millions on more City Hall staff, cultural projects, and PR, while simultaneously bringing out the begging bowl and bemoaning government cuts. We have called time and time again for Khan to treat London’s crime epidemic as an emergency by diverting as much money as possible away from the nice-to-haves and investing in more bobbies on the beat. These calls have fallen on deaf ears, but we Conservatives at City Hall understand that Londoners are crying out for extra police officers, not more press officers.
2019 was a year when homeownership became even more of an impossible dream for thousands of Londoners. Official figures show that the Mayor is on course to deliver just half of the number of homes he promised to build during the 2019/20 financial year while failing to start anywhere near enough units on TfL land. The number of family-sized homes built by the Mayor plummeted in 2018/19 – forcing a growing number of Londoners to move out to the home counties and beyond in order to raise a family.
We want to see a fundamental re-think of the planning system in London. Our city’s greenbelt is precious, but there is no reason why brownfield land should be excessively protected. Sadiq Khan’s decision to place tight planning restrictions on disused industrial land makes no sense, and we’d want to unlock this space for new housing. We would also reverse the Mayor’s decision to remove a family-sized homes target; City Hall should be using all the levers at its disposal to ensure that families can afford to live and thrive in our city.
Last year also proved that Khan is simply unable to manage big transport infrastructure projects. Crossrail – which was due to open a year ago – is now overrunning by up to three years at an additional cost of £3.4 billion. The Mayor’s misguided decision to partially freeze fares means that other crucial capacity-boosting projects such as the Sutton Tram or the Northern and Jubilee line upgrades are no closer than they were a year ago.
Next year the Mayor plans to expand the Ultra Low Emissions Zone (ULEZ) to the North and South circulars – meaning that anyone in a non-compliant vehicle will have to pay £12.50 to drive within the area. The ULEZ extension takes a blanket approach to tackling the localised problem of pollution hotspots, and this move will have a disproportionately large impact on poorer Londoners who have no option but to drive within the ULEZ for work, medical reasons, or to do the school run. The General Election showed that at a national level the Labour Party has lost touch with its working class voters. The ULEZ extension demonstrates that the Mayor of London suffers from the same problem.
Rather than spending millions on rolling out a tax which would hit poorer Londoners, we would want to scrap the ULEZ extension completely and use the savings to invest in cleaning up our bus fleet. Unlike the ULEZ, these buses could be used in a targeted way to help clean up the air in some of London’s most polluted hotspots. Whoever is Mayor after May needs to take a sensible and objective look at fares: is it right to freeze pay-as-you-go fares when this comes at the expense of transport improvements and doesn’t benefit the millions of Londoners who use travel cards?
As we enter 2020, memories of 2019 will leave Londoners in no doubt that Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty has been at best a retrograde step for our city and a worst an unmitigated disaster. Under my leadership, the London Assembly Conservatives will continue to offer a positive and progressive alternative to Labour-run London and work flat out to ensure that the Khan years become nothing more than an aberration in London’s political history.