Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon: ‘No house developers are making losses. They make massive profits.’

Caroline Pidgeon, party fringe meeting, September 2009 by Liberal Democrats

One of the first warning signs of the Liberal Democrats smashing at the general election came when the party’s Brian Paddick, a former policeman, was beaten to third place in the 2012 London mayoral election by the Greens’ Jenny Jones.

Paddick’s support had more than halved since the previous mayoral contest in 2008, both as an absolute figure and as a percentage of London’s vote – a result largely attributed to the damage that coalition life had done to the image of the Lib Dems.

It’s a record that Paddick’s successor Caroline Pidgeon will no doubt wish to overcome at the London mayoral election next year.

A former staffer of Brent Council and later a healthcare comms officer, since that contest in 2008 she has sat on the London Assembly, a body that scrutinises the mayor.

Now she is making a tilt at the main title, having been selected through a party poll without any rival after Duwayne Brooks withdrew due to a clashing work commitment (though she noted that the original field contained six candidates, and voters were given an option to restart the primary).

Regardless, most voters will be uninterested in the internal affairs of the Lib Dems, especially given the problems that Londoners are facing.

Speaking to the Right Dishonourable, Pidgeon cited housing as the main issue of this current campaign, saying that the capital faces “a huge crisis” across all different types of homes.

The Tories’ Zac Goldsmith and Labour’s Sadiq Khan, the only two mayoral candidates with a realistic chance of winning the contest, have also picked out housing as a key concern.

The boom in London’s property prices has made the capital’s housing stock a lucrative asset class for the world’s millionaires, but Pidgeon sees the issue in more ordinary terms.

“You need to be settled if your child is at school, and [housing cost] puts huge pressure on Londoners,” she said. Her main strategy to fix this involves a return to council housing, empowering the Greater London Authority – the capital’s government – to invest in housebuilding projects.

Asked about the private sector’s role in this, Pidgeon said: “With developers it’s in their interest only to build so many homes a year because it keeps the prices higher in the market.” Later she added: “None of them are making loses – they’re making massive, massive profits.”

Some people have suggested that it is time to build further into the greenbelt that has long limited London’s extensive urban sprawl. But Pidgeon is opposed.

“I don’t want to build on the greenbelt,” she said. “There’s smarter ways you can develop the housing, and part of it is is being tough with developers.”

Crossrail 2 Route, via Mayor of London, Network Rail and TfLSource: Mayor of London, Network Rail and Transport for London

Transport is the other big issue in Londoners’ minds, most of them having to squeeze themselves in and out of cramped train carriages and buses on a daily basis.

To begin Pidgeon wants to push through existing plans to put more trains onto the Tube, as well as secure funding for Crossrail 2, a new line that will run from Wimbledon to Tottenham.

Another idea she has is to roll out an early-bird fares scheme to incentivise people to travel early. Londoners have already started varying their working patterns in a bid to avoid the rush, according to data from Transport for London (TfL), but Pidgeon hopes her scheme would accelerate this process.

On the touchy subject of nationalising the railways, a debate recently re-opened by Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn, Pidgeon is not convinced a return to full public ownership would be best.

Instead she champions the “concession model” currently used by London Overground, in which private firms have a more limited role than the franchise system used in most of Britain.

“I’m not one of these people that thinks everything the public sector does is marvellous or everything the private sector does is best,” she said.

Another big question facing London is the role that the taxi-hailing app Uber will have against the historic black cabs.

Black cab drivers have blocked major roads recently and even disrupted City Hall meetings to protest against the insurgents, whose drivers are less regulated and undercut the pricey incumbents.

Pidgeon argued that TfL has underinvested in the taxi network. She also said that “private hire companies have been pushing the boundaries” of the law, noting reports of uninsured cars and unlicensed drivers, and as such she would like to see private hire regulation brought up rather than black cab regulation reduced.

“The black taxi is iconic in terms of London,” she said. “It’s hugely important to tourists who come to London and it’s important both parts of the market are kept and supported.”

Condemned Taxis, September 2011 by InvernoDreaming

Source – Condemned Taxis, September 2011 by InvernoDreaming

In reality the best that Pidgeon is likely to expect from this campaign is third place.

One of her rivals, the Greens’ Sian Berry, already told the Right Dishonourable that a Labour mayor would be easier for Green assembly members to influence than a Conservative one.

But on this question of who she would prefer to win Pidgeon equivocates, noting that she is not responsible for the campaigns of her rivals.

As noted above, whether Pidgeon can even come third place will depend on whether she can mitigate the taint of the Lib Dem’s work with the Tories.

Like many of her fellow party members she maintains there was “no choice for our party to go into coalition in the national interest”, adding that they have paid “a heavy price” for doing so.

Unfortunately a summer poll by Survation put the Lib Dems behind not just the Greens but Ukip, a party whose nativist views do not obviously align with the cosmopolitan image of London. What would Pidgeon say to those in the capital hostile to migration?

“We wouldn’t have many public services functioning if we didn’t have migration into our city,” she said, but added that in response to population growth the city needed to build more houses and invest further in public services.

She and the rest of London will find out whether this and the rest of her pitch is convincing to voters in May of next year.

Image Credit – Caroline Pidgeon, party fringe meeting, September 2009 by Liberal Democrats

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture’s Dan Pinchbeck on how England treats outsiders, virtual reality gaming and 1984

Everybody's Gone to the Rapture screenshot

Several weeks ago in my review of Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture, I said it was less a video game than a piece of “virtual-reality promenade theatre”, calling it a game for grown-ups.

More recently I interviewed Dan Pinchbeck, creative director of The Chinese Room, the studio behind the game. Pinchbeck, who is also the writer behind Rapture, took some time out to talk to us about the process of development, the cultural importance of video games and his love for first person shooters.

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Sian Berry for London mayor: ‘We’re not just going to impose our Green will’

Green Party, London mayoral launch, September 2015 by RachelH_

In some ways it’s hard to imagine a city less attuned to the Green party than the gas-guzzling, capitalistic, cutthroat capital that is London.

As well as being a city dominated by fat cats and power-grabbing pols, the capital’s working poor are some distance culturally from the residents of Brighton who continue to deliver the party its only MP in Caroline Lucas. One doubts that the Shoreditch hipsters can make up the shortfall.

But fixating on that would be to forget that in 2012 the Greens’ London mayoral candidate Jenny Jones pulled ahead of the Liberal Democrat Brian Paddick to secure third place, pre-empting a strong showing in May’s general election where the Greens quadrupled their national vote from 2010 to secure 1,157,613 ballots.

All that in mind, Sian Berry, the Green’s current London mayoral candidate, looks set to improve significantly on her last attempt to take City Hall in 2008, where she took 3.2 percent of the vote and came in at fourth place. Since then she has been busy working for the Campaign for Better Transport and winning a seat on Camden council in 2014.

“London is a really great size to have an election because you can reach everywhere in a day,” Berry told the Right Dishonourable over the phone a week after she won the Green ticket to run for mayor.

The comment is apt, since Londoners tend to be more obsessed with transport than most city folk, and the struggling combination of trains, buses and Tube will be a key battleground for contestants in next year’s election. The trouble for the Greens is that even more transport is liable to push London’s pollution levels even further past the supposed legal limit.

Boris Johnson, the Tory mayor poised to step down as his second term comes to a close next year, has loosely agreed that East London needs more road crossings, with sites currently under consideration including Silvertown, Gallions Reach and Belvedere.

Proposed river crossings in East London, by TfL

Source: Transport for London

Yet Berry opposes such crossings. “In my view having people in cars is the most inefficient way of moving people around,” she said. Instead she emphasises the importance of buses and public transport, and also wants to encourage people to walk instead of taking the Tube only a stop or two.

Tied into this plan is Berry’s ambitious scheme to pedestrianise parts of London, including bits of the West End and Oxford Street, which as the main entertainment and shopping districts are already among London’s busiest areas.

“The main reason is to make the place better [to walk around in],” she said. “At the moment it’s not really a nice environment.” Indeed if she had her way her way Oxford Street would not just be used for shopping, but for other cultural activities.

Berry is also not too much a fan of Uber, a taxi-hailing app which has stirred up hostility from London’s black cabs. “What Uber tried to present themselves as is a car-sharing app, but really it’s more likely cheap taxis,” she said, not unfairly. Since the company has enticed more drivers onto the roads it would likely be faced with more regulation under a Green mayor.

Turning away from transport, the Right Dishonourable asked Berry what she would do about gentrification, a process afflicting many of the poorer parts of London as richer folk move into downtrodden boroughs, driving up prices and forcing original residents to leave, in what some have termed “social cleansing”.

“Social cleansing is the right word for what’s been happening,” Berry said. She argued that some councils have been riding roughshod over the wishes of their residents when it comes to planning permission, and as such one of her key ideas involves handing back control to locals over housing, among other things.

“We’re going to be coming up with lots of ways to hold mayors to account,” she said, adding jokingly that her party was “not just going to impose our Green will” on London’s boroughs.

London, September 2006 by Andre Zehebauer

Credit: London, September 2006 by Andre Zehebauer

One policy she is more keen to impose is the London living wage, a minimum wage hike that campaigners argue is necessary to keep London’s workers above the breadline. If Berry had her way the London mayor would have the power to legally enforce this wage, which is currently £9.15 in the capital, and also cap rents – both measures prospective Labour mayoral candidate Gareth Thomas has called for.

Since the Green’s will at best come third next May, which policies the Tories and Labour support matter. In 2008 Berry asked her supporters to give their second preference vote to Labour’s Ken Livingstone, in a move that was reciprocated (albeit at little cost to Livingstone).

This time round Berry suspects that the Tories would have enough members in the London Assembly to avoid having a Conservative mayor’s budget amended (two-thirds must vote in favour of amendment for it to happen), making a Labour mayor one that the Greens would have more influence over. (Berry is also standing for the Assembly.)

Yet whilst the Greens are polling higher than the Liberal Democrats, the surge of Ukip in London – an area not noted for its resonance with an anti-migration party – has placed the purples ahead of the Greens in the mayor race, according to a recent poll by Survation. Berry is unfazed by this, arguing that the attention the Kippers have from the general election “won’t last until May.”

Rounding up the interview, the Right Dishonourable wondered if some of London’s problems would not be improved by some Kipper-style migration controls, especially since the capital’s population recently hit record levels of 8.6m.

“Our population needs to grow and we need more young people than our citizens produce,” Berry said. “London’s population growing doesn’t worry me. What worries me is that we need to provide the housing people need.”

Image Credit – Green Party, London mayoral launch, September 2015 by Rachel H

These eurosceptic Liberals want to scrap Trident, abolish the national curriculum and nationalise railways

Gladstone debate on Irish Home Rule April1886

Since May’s general election many have wondered what the future of liberalism is in a country where the leading liberal party has only eight MPs.

At the time some commentators speculated that the Liberal Democrats would fade away, unable to claim the insurgent credibility that won it protest votes for decades. Others wondered if in one of the world’s leading liberal democracies the need for a party committed to liberalism is there at all.

On that latter count Glen Maney, a national executive of the rival Liberal party, begs to differ. Speaking to the Right Dishonourable, he even wondered if the UK really is a liberal democracy:

“More CCTV cameras than anywhere else in the world. The growing acceptance of trial without jury. The cutting back on legal aid and the stripping of workers’ rights to go along with that.”

Maney’s party is an obscure one. Now with 12 councillors to its name, the modern Liberal party formed in 1989 shortly after the rump of the historic Liberal party merged with the Social Democrats, the two allied groups having nearly outdone Labour in the previous 1983 general election with a vote share of 25 percent.

Though political activists tend to enjoy working for groups with a heritage, the history comes with some branding difficulties for the smaller Liberal party. As Maney explained, his party ends up getting “a lot of flak” for policies that are actually the Liberal Democrats’. Tim Farron, now the leader of the Lib Dems, has added to the confusion by frequently describing himself as a “Liberal”.

Even so the Liberals do define themselves against the Lib Dems. In general terms it claims to be a party of “small government”. It wishes, for instance, to scrap the Trident nuclear programme. It also wants to abolish the national curriculum in schools, nationalise rail and water infrastructure, and is open to severing ties with the EU.

Indeed such is the zeal against the Union that three prospective councillors in Cornwall stood down at the general election so that their Ukip counterparts stood a better chance. According to Maney, they were later disciplined by the Liberal party for their actions.

“This was not reflective of the party who oppose 90 percent of what Ukip stand for,” he said. “In fact I have recruited several ex-Ukip voters who only agreed with Ukip on Europe, and were disgusted when I pointed out other policies like their stance on the NHS and their support for hunting and Trident.”

Maney even claimed that the Liberals’ stance on the EU had encouraged support even from former Lib Dems, whose view on the Union changed as they saw how the confederation treated Greece during its ongoing debt crisis. “We also have a ground swell of support from ex-Lib Dems who indeed think that their party has compromised their ideology to an unacceptable level,” he said.

On that point of ideology, Maney believes that the market for ideologically purer parties is about to boom. Like many on the Left – Maney puts his party just to the right of the Greens on a “21st century terminology barometer” – he foresees a backlash against the Tories as “debt created largely by the banking crisis is paid for by those who were least responsible”, stimulating the cost of living crisis already affecting much of London.

Labour under [former prime minister Tony] Blair became the slave to big business and deserted its roots in order to be electable, and the Tory ideology appears to now be the ethnic cleansing of the poor.

 

“I think that individuals and parties with values who aren’t prepared to sell out their values will come to the fore over the next fifty years, and I can see from the early shoots of growth in our party that we are seeing now that we will earn the respect of a lot of voters over the next few years by not compromising our ideological standpoints.”

The next few years will prove whether his party, which wants to contest as many seats as possible in the next general election in 2020, manages to capture that enthusiasm.

Image Credit – Liberal leader William Gladstone debates on Irish Home Rule in April 1886, Illustrated London News