Today London chooses its next mayor. And the stakes couldn’t be higher: It’s the third largest “direct mandate” election in Europe (ie: a vote where the candidate’s name is actually on the ballot) after the Presidents of France and Portugal. And the Mayor controls a budget larger than many countries.
The truth is that though there are a number of different candidates in the running, the Mayor left standing after doing battle tomorrow is either going to be Labour’s Sadiq Khan (the favourite, according to the polling) or the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith. So we thought it was about time to take a look at where they stand on some of the issues that Giz cares most about.
Big, New Transport Infrastructure
The on-going work to build Crossrail has proved endlessly fascinating as engineers battle against the bedrock underground and the congestion up top to weave a vital new transport artery through the centre of the city. But it appears that whether our new Mayor is Zac or Sadiq, the next raft of engineering megaprojects shouldn’t be too far behind, as both candidates have backed the continued push for Crossrail 2, a proposed line linking Hackney and Chelsea. Both manifestos also mention the need for an extension to the Bakerloo Line, and Sadiq even mentions a Crossrail 3. So that’s definitely good news – who knew that all politicians being the same could have an upside?
One issue that is going to rear it’s head again after the Mayoral election will be airport expansion. Zac has long been an opponent of enlarging Heathrow (perhaps because his Parliamentary constituency sits under the flightpath) - and conveniently, when he ran for Mayor the Tory government decided to kick the plans into the long grass. But the issue will return. Sadiq also now opposes Heathrow expansion despite having previously supported it when he was a member of the Cabinet – his manifesto argues that enlarging Gatwick is the better, and greener option. (When pushed Zac also says that he prefers Gatwick expansion too.)
Big, Old Transport Infrastructure
The candidates also want to tinker with existing transport infrastructure. Zac wants to make Cycle Hire bikes work with an Oyster card, and wants to consult on extending the scheme to London’s outer boroughs. While Sadiq meanwhile wants to introduce a new type of bus ticket - the “Hopper”, which would enable users to tap in on an unlimited number of buses in the same hour - so that if you catch two buses within 60 minutes, it’ll cost you £1.50 instead of £3.
Both candidates have also made positive noises about continuing to build more cycling superhighways, though Zac seems to temper it with concerns about listening to local residents who might oppose such measures. Perhaps even more intriguingly, Zac’s manifesto also mentions a desire to set up a Cycle Hire-style scheme for hiring cars that can be picked up and dropped off anywhere in London.
Cab-wise, both Sadiq and Zac are reticent to wade into the on-going war between the black cabbies and Uber, as politically it is an unwinnable fight: Is it better to support a politically well organised London icon, or an app which thousands, if not millions of Londoners use? So both manifestos make some fairly mealy mouthed promises about imposing slightly tougher rules on Uber drivers (requiring them to take a slimmed down version of The Knowledge, for instance), but we don’t expect things will radically change either way.
The minor candidates actually have some interesting ideas here too: The Green Party’s Sian Berry wants to close London City Airport and use it to build new housing, as well as introduce a flat-fare zone, so it’ll cost the same to get into central London from Zone 6 as it would from Zone 1. Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon has proposed half price Tube fares before 7:30am - the intention being to both make it easier on the wallets of the typically low-paid people who have to start work early, and to help manage demand during the morning rush hour.
Motorists shouldn’t expect much change. Both the top two candidates don’t want to talk about it. Zac doesn’t mention motoring at all in his manifesto - other than to threaten that private hire taxis (like Uber) might face a charge if they cause significant pollution. And Sadiq has said he’ll keep the current congestion fee as is - presumably to keep potential voters in outer London happy.
The Greens’ Sian Berry has an interesting idea though: Making it smarter. She wants to change the fixed fee to a variable one based on the type of vehicle and how polluting it is, the time of day, type of road and the distance driven by motorists (all calculated by the cameras doing some very clever maths, we presume). It’ll be interesting to see if Mayor Sadiq or Mayor Zac pinches it.
Science and Technology
On the science and technology front, there are also commonalities between the two major candidates - but also some more esoteric ideas too.
Both Zac and Sadiq are promising to appoint a Chief Digital Officer to City Hall, and though the brief may slightly differ depending on who wins, both manifestos talk about the value of open data. Amazingly both also promise to create an entire organisation for open data, which Zac dubs the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics, with Sadiq saying he wants to open up public and government organisations so that better services can be delivered. Zac also wants the CDO to be in charge of developing a “smart city strategy” - figuring out how data and sensors can be used to improve London. Sadiq says his CDO will take a lead on cybersecurity.
Both candidates also have ideas for improving internet connectivity. Sadiq wants to tackle “not spots”, whilst Zac wants to make installing fibreoptic cables easier by standardising the “wayleave” agreements that are made between private property owners and broadband providers when they install new cables. He’s even suggested that broadband cables could be run through Tube tunnels to save digging up the roads - though this doesn’t seem terribly plausible, given that Tube carriages are already engineered to fit into their tunnels snugly. Sadiq wants to make it easier to install broadband infrastructure on public land.
Sadiq says that he wants to elevate digital connectivity to the same status as other public utilities. It’s unclear how he intends to achieve this - but anything that makes getting broadband installed when you move house any easier sounds good to us. In his housing policies, Zac also talks about how he wants newbuilds to be broadband-ready.
Zac has provided a surprisingly long manifesto on his website that goes into some detail on this, but one amusing aspect is that he appears to believe that apps can solve a wide variety of problems. For example, he specifically singles out the apps Cozy.co and Zumper as tools which connect landlords and tenants - he wants something similar for London, and he reckons they could work better than Sadiq’s housing plan, which would see the creation of a public-owned lettings agency to look after renters.
Zac also points to food sharing app Olio as a potential solution to some Londoners having excess food and some Londoners needing it - the app connects the two. And he also wants a “virtual neighbourhood watch”, and wants to use GPS to track violent offenders (though implementing this seems somewhat outside the Mayor’s responsibilities). It’s unclear whether City Hall would build new apps or use existing ones, but it is certainly an interesting approach.
Sadiq hasn’t gone into quite so much detail on his website, saying that he will “Support innovative tech solutions which enable Londoners to access and use public services and information more easily and efficiently.” Though he does also say that he’ll create a “track my crime” website so that victims (not suspects, we presume!) can log on and see how much progress is being made in their investigation.
Zac has also said he’ll put up a £1m prize each year for the “Mayor’s Tech Challenge”, which sounds as though it’ll be an X-Prize style competition to solve some of London’s biggest challenges.
The Tech Industry
And finally, both major candidates are also making lots of noise on their support for the tech industry - both in ways that tend to reflect what you might expect from their parties.
Sadiq is very keen on “skills” and training the kids to replace us tomorrow. He wants to set up a Skills for Londoners task force to create training opportunities and apprenticeships, modelled on what Mayor Bill de Blasio is doing in New York. It, and a city-wide STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) strategy would apparently particularly focus on getting more girls into STEM subjects.
Zac meanwhile appears more concerned with helping tech businesses: He says he’ll lobby government to devolve business rates so that he can control them, and he wants to create a “clean tech” hub modelled on the Google Campus in Shoreditch. Perhaps most intriguingly, he wants to force commercial property developers to set aside parts of their buildings as “affordable workspace” for start-up businesses - so that they can get established more easily.
In round-ups like this (and like the ones we do for the Budget), Giz usually likes to end on what the impact will be for booze. It's important. But unlike Boris, who when he was elected in 2008 promised to ban alcohol consumption from public transport… neither Zac or Sadiq have much to say here. The closest thing we can find in the manifestos is that Sadiq says he’ll lobby to bring an NFL franchise to London… which we’re sure people will enjoy a drink while watching? Yeah, it’s a bit tenuous.
Oh, and Zac Goldsmith doesn't know how to hold a pint:
Make of that what you will! Now get out there and vote - you only have a matter of hours left!
Image Credit: Election materials from Shutterstock