Michael Liebreich is an entrepreneur, clean energy and transport expert, member of the Board of Trade, former member of the London Transport Board and an Olympic skier. In this series, he explains what it will take for a Conservative candidate to secure an unexpected victory in the 2024 mayoralty of London.
In the first part of this series, we looked at how the 2024 London mayoral race may be closer than many people think – in part because of Khan’s failure as mayor and in part because of voter preferences identified through demographic trends and analysis. Councilor Alex Crowley’s previous election results during Boris Johnson’s two mayoral wins.
Alex’s analysis also shows that to succeed, the Conservative candidate must build a platform that appeals to core Conservative and media elites and to younger, more diverse, progressive voters – what I call “a well-run city with a glorious future”. .
Alex and I have not yet begun to examine specific policy proposals. However, to encourage debate and discussion early in the process, in the coming days I will develop some ideas in a number of policy areas, from the economy, environment and climate.
It’s the London economy, stupid
If London’s economy improves, all other problems can be solved; If it remains, no amount of good policy in other areas will help. London’s economy must be a top priority for the next mayor.
London is a world leader in some of the most dynamic sectors of the global economy, such as media, design, technology, telecoms, education, non-profits, retail, hospitality and tourism. However, this can never be taken for granted – every sector needs up-to-date regulation, new talent, inward investment and support in selling to foreign markets.
As mayor, Boris Johnson was great at promoting London, especially during the 2012 Olympics. But he invested time and energy in the Thames Estuary Airport. Time has progressed. We need to fly less, not more, and the economic engines of the London economy of the future look different now. They will include broadband fiber to all homes and offices, solutions to electricity capacity bottlenecks that are holding back business and housing development, better transport and freight links to the rest of the UK and trains to more continental cities.
London’s economy also requires a leading exhibition centre. We lost Earl’s Court; Kensington Olympia is being redeveloped but small in international terms; Excel Center is poorly connected and unfriendly. If it’s too late to add a convention center to the Olympic Park development, let’s do it at Old Oak and Park Royal, the UK’s largest regeneration project, ideally located for both HS2 and the Elizabeth Line. There’s nothing like a top-notch exhibition, convention and cultural center to generate excitement in a city – and jobs, jobs, jobs.
Not all jobs are full time. Many services valued by Londoners are provided by agency workers, gig workers, part-time workers, and even unregistered workers. Khan, hawking to the Union, did nothing for them. Technology will continue to increase flexible working, which is often the preferred choice of workers. Instead of bucking the trend, the next mayor should promote safe workplaces for flexible workers, decent hours and pay, access to pensions and financial services, holidays and family leave. This is an area where London, with its strengths in technology, fintech and services, should be leading the way.
London is, however, home to some of the poorest people in the country, with tens of thousands living in poverty. The left loves not relative poverty, but actual poverty of inadequate nutrition and heating, substandard housing, limited life choices. Millions more Londoners are suffering financial stress due to the affordability crisis. The next mayor has and must do much to help them access cheaper goods and services and spread economic opportunity more equitably.
A Conservative offer for London must focus on economic dynamism – for small and large businesses – supported by credible proposals to deliver efficient services, improve productivity and attract investment. And at the same time, helping London’s wealthy “level up”.
Being green is not easy
In 1815, Jane Austen wrote that “no one is healthy in London, no one can be.” It was the case that the social and financial benefits of living in London came at a cost in terms of health. Today’s Londoners are not ready to make that deal.
Improving London’s environment is an economic imperative, not a pretty thing. We compete with cities across Europe and beyond for talented, mobile workers.
Sadiq Khan has announced improvements to London’s air quality during his tenure. But in the wake of Dieselgate these were delivered through the emissions zone innovation introduced by its predecessor, along with a sharp reduction in diesel emissions. Now he has been caught running a bogus proposal to extend the Ultra Low Emission Zone – which would have hit outer-London car-owners with punitive costs – just to bolster his environmental credentials ahead of the publication of his book on the environment. Improving London’s air quality is vital, but it must be done in a fair, transparent and cost-effective way.
The environment is more than air quality – it’s about the myriad intrusions of life in a city like London. Londoners want our children to be able to walk to school in safe streets, to be able to cross the road without fear, to hear our neighbors greet us, to see some greenery and birds (sparrows would be nice instead of parrots), And Breathe clean air. We want millions more trees, we want London’s historic rivers restored, we want a new walkable park on both banks of the Thames, we want linear parks and corridors linking our neighborhoods with green belts, we want London’s water to be managed sustainably. So that we can cope with new extremes of rainfall without flooding and without our sewers flowing into the Thames.
And yes, Londoners want real action on climate change. In 2020, Khan claimed that if he were re-elected, London would reach net zero by 2030 – an extraordinarily damning claim even for him, at which point TfL doesn’t plan to phase out its own diesel buses until 2038. As soon as he returned to office, sure enough, he turned to complaining about the government’s refusal to underwrite his green ambitions. Climate must be the keyword for a conservative mayor Distribution.
Any serious climate plan for London will revolve around energy efficiency and the electrification of heating and transport. London’s total energy bill – electricity, gas, petrol and diesel – is £25 billion a year. Imagine reducing that number by 40 per cent over the next two mayoral terms, putting an extra £10bn into the London economy while simultaneously taking a chainsaw to London’s emissions. Technology is available.
The next mayor will need to develop a vision to attract billions of pounds of private investment each year, funded by reductions in fossil fuel use. He needs to marshal stakeholders – equipment suppliers, building trades, colleges, councils, businesses, associations, civil society, property developers and owners – and “get climate action done”.
The City of London is the world’s leading hub for green finance – a Conservative bid for London would harness its resources to drive an affordable green transformation of this great city.