After eight long years of Boris Johnson, Londoners will finally have a chance to elect their new Mayor on 5th May. Boris leaves behind an appalling legacy of reduced living standards for working class Londoners. The task for Corbyn supporters is to ensure a Labour Mayoral victory, and use this as a platform to fight for socialist policies.
After eight long years of Boris Johnson, Londoners will finally have a chance to elect their new Mayor on 5th May. Boris leaves behind an appalling legacy of an escalating housing crisis, rising tube and bus fares, stagnating wages and sky-rocketing rents, all of which add up to a significant reduction in living standards for working class Londoners.
London under Boris: a playground for the rich
Boris’s time in office is marked by litany of failure and broken promises. When he was first elected he promised to totally eradicate rough sleeping in London by 2012. Instead the amount of rough sleepers in the capital grew by 126%! Boris pledged to tackle the housing crisis by building more ‘affordable’ homes. In reality, the number of homes delivered has continued to drop, with a record low of 6,856 affordable homes built in 2014-15, making only 25% of all new homes ‘affordable’, down from 39% four years ago. At the same time, his Tory friends in Westminster have carried out brutal cuts to housing benefit with his full support, resulting in social cleansing of formerly working class neighbourhoods.
Boris also promised to bear down on low pay and poverty, but 27% of Londoners are still considered to be living in poverty, compared to 20% in the rest of England. Meanwhile, the proliferation of zero hour contracts and low paid jobs has seen a 13% increase in terms of the number of jobs paying below the London living wage, whilst in-work poverty has more than doubled.
Johnson’s reign has also seen an eye-watering 42% increase in tube and bus fares since 2008, more than 13% above inflation. Working Londoners who have no other choice but to travel by bus and tube have been hard hit by these increases, which come alongside soaring rents and stagnant wages. At the same time, the Tory government has continued to cut Transport for London’s funding; most recently George Osbourne announced in the Autumn Statement that it’s operating grant of nearly £700m would be slashed to nothing by 2020. This has led to job cuts, masquerading as ‘efficiency savings’ – most famously the closure of 301 ticket offices and consequent loss of 900 jobs, despite Boris claiming he would keep the ticket offices open when first elected.
Alongside these attacks on workers and the poor, London’s rich have continued to amass an obscene amount of wealth, and vast sums of international capital have poured into the London property market, pushing up prices and exacerbating an already dire housing crisis. The recent publication of Boris’s tax return reveals that while Londoners struggle with poverty, he earned more than £1.98 million over the past four years, £250,000 a year of which was payment for his Daily Telegraph column – a fee which he famously described as chicken feed. It’s no wonder that under his watch London has been run solely in the interests of the rich!
Zac Goldsmith: Mayor of the 1%
Running in the race to succeed Boris are Tory MP Zac Goldsmith and the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan. If Boris is rich, then Zac is filthy rich. His average annual income over the last five years was £1.2m – 36 times the median salary for full-time workers in London. Forget the top 1% – Goldsmith is actually in the highest-earning 0.05% of UK taxpayers! When his father died in 1997, he left a £1.2bn fortune, held offshore in a Geneva fund. Zac inherited his non-dom tax status from Goldsmith Sr, and before giving it up on becoming an MP he boasted it allowed him to ‘make lifestyle choices to avoid paying tax’. Who knows what vast sums of tax he has managed to avoid over the years? It is hard to imagine a more thoroughly bourgeois candidate.
Zac’s manifesto is full of the same grand sounding promises that we’ve heard over the last eight years. He will supposedly tackle the housing crisis by doubling house building, but when it comes what kinds of homes (luxury flats for overseas investors, anyone?) and how they will actually be built he is remarkably scant on details. His total disconnect from the lives of ordinary Londoners is demonstrated by his bright idea to get rid of bus lanes, because apparently we’ll all be driving electric cars in a few years’ time. The experience of Boris’s two terms in office is enough to tell you that this is all hot air. Zac’s mayoralty will be a regime by the rich for the rich; meanwhile the rest of London will continue to suffer.
Sadiq was selected as Labour’s Mayoral candidate at the same time as Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election. Sadiq’s beat the favourite, arch-Blairite Tessa Jowell, by some margin, reflecting the massive leftward shift that brought Corbyn to power. But despite posing as a “left” candidate in the contest against Jowell, and helping Corbyn get on the ballot paper by ‘lending’ him his nomination, Sadiq stands considerably to the right of the current Labour leadership.
This is shown in his pledge to be ‘the most pro-business Mayor yet’ and putting forward a manifesto for ‘all Londoners’. The continuing crisis of capitalism has starkly revealed what Marxists have always argued, that the interests of the working class and oppressed groups are fundamentally opposed to that of the bosses and their businesses. That is why all over the world, big business continues to rake in huge profits, while working people suffer the consequences of the crisis. To be pro-business is to therefore be anti-worker. When Sadiq says he is pro-business, his real audience is the ladies and gentleman in the City of London; what he is saying is: “I’m not like Corbyn – you can trust me to represent your interests”.
Despite this, Sadiq has put forward a number of progressive policies that socialists should support. He has pledged to freeze tube and bus fares for four years. In the face of the continued hikes planned, this is certainly welcome, but falls short of the fare cuts that working Londoners really need. It is also concerning to note that this freeze will be funded by ‘efficiency savings’ – a code word for cuts and job losses.
When it comes to housing, Sadiq has been strong on rhetoric, pledging to make the election a “referendum on the housing crisis”. He has attacked the nonsensical nature of the government’s Orwellian definition of ‘affordable’ housing (80% of market rates) and instead pledged to build genuinely affordable homes with social rents. He has highlighted the scandal of new homes being sold off to overseas investors, only to sit empty, and has promised to ensure that new houses are offered to UK-based buyers first. He has said he will take action to stop councils demolishing estates, unless residents agree and there is no net loss of social housing.
Fight the Tories with socialist policies!
The sad fact is, however, that such is the depth of the housing crisis that these measures fail to add up to a complete solution. The fundamental problem is a problem of capitalism, a system that has never been able to provide enough high quality housing for workers. This is because the market produces homes on the basis of what can be sold for a profit, not what is so desperately needed.
It is of course true that the Mayor’s powers are mostly limited to housing and transport policy. All of the serious problems that working class and poor Londoners face are a result of the crisis of capitalism and the Tory government’s continued attempts to make workers’ pay for that crisis through austerity. But a socialist Mayor could act as a rallying point in the struggle to overthrow the Tories. With such a high profile, they could boldly make the case for a fundamental change in society and bring together Labour councils, trade unions, the unemployed, immigrants and all oppressed layers behind a clear socialist programme. That is what supporters of Socialist Appeal are fighting for – and we invite you to join us in this struggle.
- Support Corbyn! Vote for Sadiq and fight for Socialism!
- For a socialist solution to the housing crisis! The immediate seizure of empty properties to house the homeless, and a mass building programme of new council housing. No to estate demolition! Introduce rent controls for private housing and strengthen tenant rights.
- For a fully funded, democratically run public transport system! Cut tube and bus fares. No to TFL job losses! Nationalise the bus companies.
- Nationalise the corrupt finance houses of the City of London under democratic control!