Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

How does Labour win in London in 2015?

First we must understand the characteristics of voters in our 12 marginal seats. They are made up of a high proportion of liberal opinion voters – well educated, tolerant, and politically opinionated – who deserted Labour mostly to the Liberal Democrats in the aftermath of Iraq. The other significant group are young professionals.

What these two groups have in common is their consumerist, non-tribal voting behaviour. If we build a coalition of progressive values, they will join that coalition. Our suburbs too are changing, not least in their increased diversity. When I was first elected, the Tories had sizeable majorities in places such as Hendon and Harrow which were out of Labour’s reach. Now there is all for Labour to play for.

So the tone of the campaign will be crucial – we won’t win simply appealing to a sense of injustice and reflex opposition to the current coalition, no matter how appealing and comfortable that instinctively feels. We need to be a party of government in waiting, not a party of protest.

Second, we must avoid a lazy argument that pits the private sector against the public by showing that the interests of business and the interests of citizens in the capital are aligned – what’s good for residents is good for business too.

Take housing, for example. The CBI in its 2012 survey of London businesses for the first time listed the unaffordability of housing in London as a bigger barrier to growth in London than transport. London has the highest housing costs of any other major European city and the gap between someone’s yearly earnings and average mortgage a Londoner pays is £55,000.

London Councils estimate that we need to build 40,000 new homes in London each year to match the increase in population, yet in 2010-11 there were just 19,860 new homes built in the capital. They estimate that if housebuilding continues at current rates, London will be almost 250,000 homes short. We must ensure that entrepreneurs don’t choose Berlin or Amsterdam as alternatives to London because life is just so expensive here.

Or take the argument about a London living wage. It’s good for business because it means less absenteeism, greater loyalty, and it’s good for citizens because it affords them a more decent life – having dinner out once in a while, or being able to afford their child’s birthday present. It could also save the Treasury £3.2bn, releasing us from subsidising poverty wages through our taxes.

Ensuring that our city continues to welcome immigrants is both important for community cohesion, but for business too. A recent report by Deloitte found that London is the biggest employer of highly skilled people in the world and warned that the constraints of the visa system place unwarranted pressure on organisations, especially smaller businesses, which rely on specialist talent and skills from overseas countries to grow. London is an immigrant city, whose diversity, openness and tolerance was the reason why we won the right to host the Olympics. London will suffer if we set high hurdles in the path of skilled immigrants coming to work in our city.

Third we must show that we don’t wish to win power in government to create an over-mighty state, but instead to allow the spontaneous reflex of community in London to find its place in providing solutions to the things we as Londoners worry about.

Take as an example the City Safe scheme which asks the community to provide safe havens for young people fleeing from gangs. Or look at the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Campaign to tackle poverty, which has raised more money outside of war or natural disaster than any other paper for its. By working in partnership between government, the private sector and the community, we can achieve so much more.

The Olympics showed how we can work together to produce benefits for business, regeneration and jobs for the local community, and a life-affirming experience for all. Through the power of state procurement, we can ensure that our goals of equality and social justice are achieved in practice. The next major development in London in Nine Elms is a perfect example of how this model can be extended going forward.

Labour won’t win in 2015 simply by appealing to a sense of injustice or opposition to the national government, heinous though its actions may be. Neither will we win by bashing business, but instead through uniting the interests of residents and employers. We must also avoid pitting outer against inner London, as we have sometimes done in the past, understanding that everyone has a place in our capital – workers in the City of London and hospital workers, first generation Jewish and third generation Bengali, young professionals and wartime survivors. They all have a contribution to make to the richness of London.

Labour must show that its vision is for a united city – combatting income inequality while celebrating the importance of our business sectors; building new homes for the poorest and those young professionals who want to get on the housing ladder; welcoming new immigrants whose skills are so important for growth, while ensuring that we lobby for jobs for local citizens where new infrastructure for business is planned.

My office overlooks St Thomas’ hospital where every day between eight and 10 babies are born each day, but each of them is born unequal. It is only by shaping their lives, their futures, their opportunities, through the specific pledges that follow from a One London vision that they will defy the gravity that halts their ambition. One Nation Labour means One London. That’s the message we must use to win for Labour in 2015.


Tessa Jowell MP is a former minister for the Cabinet Office and minister for the Olympics


Photo: Echoplex7

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Tessa Jowell

is former member of parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood and former secretary of state for culture, media and sport


  • I fully understand the segmenting of the electorate into packages of people each of which has a descriptor, but I prefer to treat Londoners as individuals each with separate and nuanced concerns and aspirations. It takes longer if you treat people on the doorstep as indivuduals rather than categories but it rewards too if you can get engaged in dialogue.

  • The biggest concern of Londoners is housing, everything else comes way down the batting order. Like many other people I am sick of hearing politician after politician claiming how they wanted more affordable housing repeating it like a mantra ad nauseum.

    There are two ways to build housing, whether it’s affordable or not, build out on green belt or build up and reverse the public sector preferences of the last twenty years. Let’s hear what you have to say on that please.

  • Many of the objections to high rise were of inadquate space and being compelled to go there through lack of choice. I would love to live atop Trellick Tower or any high rise with dependable lifts, good insulation and sufficient internal storage space but it doesn’t suit all and nobody should be forced into housing they don’t appreciate. There is still plenty of land within Greater London that is not green belt but it is a question of priorities – do we need more luxury housing for the frankly rich or more social housing for the whole of society in mixed developments that do not scream ‘here are where the truly poor live’?

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