I was born in London, grew up in London and have lived in London nearly all of my adult life. I know that London can be one of the most exhilarating places in the world. There are ways to work, rest and play in London that you just don’t find anywhere else. But I also know that, for many, London is becoming unaffordable, and for many more it remains a frustrating and difficult city.
Amid the enormous opportunities on offer in London, we have to take on London’s enormous challenges. A quarter of our young people are unemployed – the highest in the country. That demands a response that is more creative and determined than the current offer. Job centres aren’t working and the work programme is a mess. Young people should be able to design their own services. Meanwhile, we need to get behind London’s job creators with a proper industrial strategy. This needs the mayor leading from the front, not just publishing ‘vision’ documents without any sense of what needs to be done.
A key part of that strategy must be renewing London’s infrastructure. Anybody who has spent a tube journey with their head in a fellow passenger’s armpit knows that we desperately need investment in London’s transport. Boris knows this, and his answer is that passengers should pay for it, which is why Londoners pay twice as much for transport as Romans or madrileños. We have to be clear about who will pay for increased investment in our tube, rail, cycle lanes and buses, while keeping fares affordable. We also have to keep the pressure up for new routes, as we are doing through the all-party parliamentary group on Crossrail 2 which I chair.
Increasingly businesses also recognise the importance of housing: the people who make our city work must be able to live there. Yet, currently 300,000 people sit on London councils’ housing waiting lists and rents in London are rising eight times faster than wages. We all agree that we have to build more homes, but nobody wants to talk about where they will go. We have to level with people – the homes will be built upwards or outwards. We accept more tower blocks or we discuss building on the parts of the green belt that do not live up to the name. The commission on London housing that I have set up with the help of the Royal Town Planning Institute will help us to come up with these answers.
Perhaps most importantly of all, Londoners need to know how Labour can help keep them safe. Boris Johnson has reduced frontline police numbers by 2,300, meaning smaller neighbourhood policing teams and fewer officers on the beat. We should pledge to reverse those cuts, and should be honest with London taxpayers that this would cost us each around 50p extra a week. This is a price worth paying to maintain the enormous reductions in crime that London has enjoyed for two decades.
I have made no secret that I am seriously considering running for mayor. We deserve better leadership than we currently get from a Daily Telegraph columnist who would rather be prime minister. Labour needs a London figurehead to take us through the local elections next year, the general election in 2015 and on to the mayoral poll. Whoever runs and ultimately represents the Labour movement must be able to bring London together through affordable housing, modernised transport, safe streets and decent jobs. If we do that, then this great city will finally work for all Londoners.
Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.
Our work depends on you.