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

Greater Manchester Police Federation chair tells Tory MP Nigel Evans to ‘get over’ himself

Police Band, Manchester Remembrance, November 2010 by Stuart Grout

A police chief from Greater Manchester criticised the Tory MP Nigel Evans on Tuesday for his complaints about how the local police handled hostile crowds at the Conservative conference in the city last week.

Ian Hanson, chair of the Greater Manchester Police Federation, a trade union for the city’s force, responded to remarks from Evans in the Commons describing protestors’ behaviour as “vile abuse tantamount to hate crimes”, and demanding answers from local police.

As reported by the Right Dishonourable, the event saw journalists spat on and one young Tory hit in the forehead with an egg. Some 19 people were arrested throughout the course of the conference.

However Hanson rebutted Evans’ criticism, according to Manchester Evening News:

“Mr Evans has had a glimpse into the real world of what policing looks like in 2015, which is the fact that we do not have the police officers to provide a ‘ring of steel’ around him as we once did.

“Things got a bit uncomfortable and we dealt with it – get over yourself Mr Evans, you are no more important than everybody else in Manchester who gave up their police officers to keep you safe. You should be thanking the communities and police officers of Greater Manchester, not attacking them.”

The police chair went on the note that Greater Manchester Police has lost nearly 2,000 officers since 2010, in a climate of government cuts under the Tory-Liberal coalition.

Police chiefs have called policing the event “incredibly complex”, owing to some 70,000 protestors thought to have turned up during the four-day conference – making it the biggest demo in Mancunian history according to Hanson.

“Mr Evans makes no mention of the long hours worked by the men and women of GMP and the months of planning that went into the policing effort,” he added. “Instead, he focuses in on what affects him.”

Image Credit – Police Band, Manchester Remembrance, November 2010 by Stuart Grout

Northern Powerhouse will roll out to Sheffield as city grabs transport powers

Sheffield City Hall, October 2012 by Ed Webster

Sheffield is to join Manchester as the second northern English town to grab a host of powers from Whitehall as chancellor George Osborne seeks to devolve significant oversight of transport to the region.

Under the plans the Steel City will vote for an elected mayor in 2017 to preside over a region spanning South Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire.

However the Sheffield mayor appears to risk being labelled a glorified transport commissioner, much like the current mayor of London, as the highlighted policies from a government press release concern little else:

  • Responsibility over the region’s transport budget, with a multi-year settlement to be agreed at the Spending Review
  • Responsibility for franchised bus services, which will support the Combined Authority’s delivery of smart and integrated ticketing across its councils
  • Responsibility for an identified Key Route Network of local authority roads that will be collaboratively managed and maintained at the city region level by the Combined Authority on behalf of the Mayor
  • Powers over strategic planning

City devolution has been a pet project for Osbo for a number of years, and the “Northern Powerhouse” slogan regularly featured in the Tories’ general election campaign.

Victorian Britain boasted a number of powerful city governments, as evinced by the grand city halls still used by many of the local councils, but by the end of the Second World War much had been centralised in Whitehall.

Whilst Osborne continues to flaunt his devolution credentials he has come under fire for not putting enough public money into regions outside of London, a position justified by Conservative claims that too much public investment discourages the private sector from investing.

Under the new plans for Sheffield the central government will invest £30m a year over the next 30 years, in what the government claims will allow the Steel City to “boost local growth and invest in local manufacturing and innovation” – a policy seemingly inconsistent with the “crowding out” thesis.

For the deal to go ahead all local councils must agree to it, with the regions affected detailed in this map below from the Big Investment Project:

Sheffield City Region Map by Big Investment Project

Image Credit – Sheffield City Hall, October 2012 by Ed Webster

Zac Goldsmith smashes Tory rivals, winning 70% of votes to contest London mayoralty

Zac Goldsmith, June 2013 by Policy Exchange

The Tories chose Zac Goldsmith to contest the London mayoral election on Friday, as the Richmond and North Kingston MP smashed the competition to secure 70 percent of the votes cast.

Goldsmith’s nearest rival and MEP Syed Kamall failed to secure even a quarter of the ballots of the winner, with deputy mayor for crime and policing Stephen Greenhalgh and London Assembly member Andrew Boff limping into third and fourth.

Candidate Number of Votes Percentage
Andrew Boff 372 4%
Zac Goldsmith 6,514 70.6%
Stephen Greenhalgh 864 9.4%
Syed Kamall 1,477 16%

The extent of Goldsmith’s victory emphatically confirms expectations that he would contest the London mayoralty against Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, with some speculating that the Tories deliberately chose weak rivals to ensure his candidacy.

Number of votes secured by Tory London mayoral candidates, October 2015

Goldsmith and Khan will face the Lib Dems’ Caroline Pidgeon, Ukip’s Peter Whittle and the Greens’ Sian Berry, interviewed by the Right Dishonourable last month.

The Richmond and North Kingston MP has earned public attention for his opposition to expansion at Heathrow Airport, as well as his considerable personal wealth, which is estimated at £280m.

Many see him as a continuity candidate for the current London mayor Boris Johnson, and Goldsmith has even hired Lynton Crosby to run his campaign, a move Johnson made back in 2012 and David Cameron made in the recent general election.

Image Credit – Zac Goldsmith, June 2013 by Policy Exchange

Peter Whittle picked as Ukip London mayoral candidate, snubbing Suzanne Evans

Peter Whittle outside National Gallery via Twitter

Ukip selected Peter Whittle as its candidate for next year’s London mayoral election, fulfilling previous reports that deputy chair Suzanne Evans would not be chosen for the role despite her public stature.

A journalist before entering politics, Whittle has been the party’s culture spokesman for two years, and stood in Eltham in South East London during the general election.

In the past he has been a critic of multiculturalism, a potentially controversial view for a London mayor to hold given the diversity of the capital, a British city where white Britons do not constitute a majority.

Speaking to Ukip Daily in March 2014, Whittle said:

“I think it is a priority now to look at how we best achieve integration, as opposed to the failed policy of multiculturalism which had been entrenched for years. Voices from both the left and right have admitted that a doctrinaire multicultural approach has led to social segregation, and a fragmenting of the kind of communal values which are crucial to the survival of any society.”

Whittle also topped the list of Greater London Authority candidates that Ukip is putting forward, with Evans placed third behind David Kurten, a chemistry teacher who stood for the seat of Camberwell and Peckham in May against Labour MP Harriet Harman.

Challenged by the BBC over whether Evans, who was interim leader during Nigel Farage’s temporary retirement after the general election, would have made a better candidate, Whittle said this was not the case.

In August party members briefed the press that the central committee used to select the London mayoral candidate was being harnessed to block Evans, a potential rival for Farage.

In the general election Ukip underperformed in London compared to the rest of the country, with the party picking up 8.1 percent of votes in the capital to put it at third place, below the 12.7 percent it scored nationally.

A poll by Survation earlier this summer also put Ukip ahead of both the Lib Dems and the Greens in the contest for first preferences in the London mayoral election.

Sian Berry, the Green candidate for London mayor, previously told the Right Dishonourable that the interest in Ukip would not last until the election in May, the implication being that its poll ratings would soon shrink.

Image Credit – Peter Whittle outside National Gallery via Twitter