• Development Intelligence

The Tory beat down of Mayor Khan





As children, at some stage or another, we all had to read W H Auden’s ‘Night Mail’ poem, which in part describes the types of letters that are delivered overnight by the Royal Mail:

“Letters of thanks, letters from banks,

Letters of joy from girl and boy,

Receipted bills and invitations

To inspect new stock or to visit relations,

And applications for situations,

And timid lovers' declarations,

And gossip, gossip from all the nations,…”

But nowhere in the verse did the great W H Auden list the sort of absolute stinker that the MHCLG Secretary Robert Jenrick (aged 13 ¾) sent to Mayor of London Sadiq Khan earlier this month. Wow! You don’t get official letters like that very often.

First the context, in simple terms: Khan’s new London Plan draft was published, the Government really didn’t like it and suggested some changes, Khan said no, so the SoS used his powers to direct that the new London Plan cannot be agreed until it has incorporated changes laid out by ministers. Ouch! Game set and match to Jenrick. Take this cracking line, literally dripping with disdain:

“Housing delivery in London under your mayoralty has been deeply disappointing,…”

He then goes on to point out the blindingly obvious that the average delivery of 37,000 homes annually right now falls well short of existing need and the target of 52,000 homes laid out in the Mayor’s own proposed Plan. And then this:

“[the Plan]…actively discourages ambitious boroughs” [and includes] “a combination of unattractive policies, such as ‘garden grabbing’ by opening up residential gardens for development”.

As well as:

“You have put a series of onerous conditions on estate regeneration schemes for them to be eligible for grant funding, such as the requirement for residents’ ballots…In attaching such conditions, you are jeopardising housing delivery and this approach will make it significantly more difficult to deliver the Plan’s targets and homes needed.”

The SoS also covers the topic of rent controls and appears to end speculation they will be introduced. Sadiq Khan had called for new powers to cap rents and had made it a central pledge in his now delayed campaign for re-election to City Hall; so there goes that re-election campaign strategy.

So what’s the politics behind all this then?

The truth is that Tory ministers want to start cracking down on Khan. His under-delivery of almost everything apart from Mayoral photo opportunities has given them the ability to do that. Note in last few days how openly, on prime time TV and even in the daily PM’s news conference, Tory ministers have been blaming Khan for closing down the Tube network so quickly when challenged on how social distancing isn’t really working out on the crowded Tube system.

(With Jenrick’s holding direction in South Oxfordshire and now his beating up of the London mayor, he’s rather getting a taste for exerting his power over regional and local government that doesn’t want to toe the Tories’ line).

The stage is set, political battle has commenced and part of the judgement by the Tories is that they need to start giving Khan a really hard kicking if their candidate, Shaun Bailey, (yup, us too) has any chance of denting Khan’s re-election prospects at the now re-set May 2021 London elections.

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