London Olympics: How have the last seven years treated Newham?

The borough of Newham has yet to see that many gains from hosting the Olympics.

The Olympics were sold, both in the bid to the IOC and in the promise to Britons and Londoners, as games of regeneration. This may have been over-ambitious from the start; Olympics which turn a profit are rare. For every Atlanta 1996 or LA 1984, games which turned a slim and not-so-slim profit, respectively, with the help of massive commercialisation, there are ones like the 1974 Montreal games, which left the city in debt to the tune of CA$1bn and took 20 years to pay off.

Nonetheless, in 2005, in that day of euphoria between winning the games on the sixth and the London bombs bringing the city crashing down to earth on the seventh, Jack Straw told the House of Commons that:

The games will transform one of the poorest and most deprived areas of London. They will create thousands of new jobs and homes. They will offer new opportunities for business in the immediate area and throughout London.

A new study, performed jointly between Elizabeth Finn Care and the LSE, aims to see whether the 2012 Games will live up to the lofty promises made about them. The research looks at the borough of Newham, within which much of the Olympic park, and the stadium itself, is situated, and although the full results won't be available until August 2013, preliminary results have been made available already.

Straw's focus on jobs and homes isn't reflected quite so well on the ground. Despite the megaproject being constructed on its doorstep, as well as the opening of Westfield Stratford City, the largest inner-city shopping centre in Western Europe, Newham was hit harder than the rest of London by the recession. Unemployment increased by 44 per cent in the borough, from an already-high base of 13.7 per cent; the city as a whole started from 8.8 per cent unemployment, which then increased by just over a fifth.

Employment may be down amongst residents, but employers are up; the borough saw an increase of 6 per cent in the number of enterprises over the period of 2008 to 2011, even while England was seeing a 4 per cent decrease.

When it comes to homes, there has been an ongoing decrease in council housing stock since 2005, from 22,992 down to 17,547 by 2012, and that offset by the increase in housing association stock, which rose by just over 2,200 to 13,065 homes. That situation at least is expected to improve markedly after the Olympics are through, when the Athlete's Village is converted 3,000 more local flats.

While more jobs and more homes are unabiguously good, there are other measures which resist an easy value judgement. Private rents in Newham remain much lower than the London average, and particularly low when compared to other Olympic boroughs. The mean monthly rent for a two bedroom property in the borough is £833, compared to £1196 in neighboring Tower Hamlets; but for the residents of Newham that news is obviously something to celebrate, even though it is assuredly an indicator of the borough's continuing poverty. Similarly, the increase in house prices in the borough has been a tenth of that London-wide; the average house is worth 3.5 per cent more than it was in 2005, but across the capital that figure is 32.5 per cent. Again, a mark of the continued problems the borough is having, but also a sign that, unlike many boroughs in the city, the children of Newham stand a chance of being able to live in the area they grew up in.

The lead researcher, LSE's Professor Anne Power CBE, agrees, saying:

We should be glad there are parts of London where prices are still modest... what we're trying to do [in improving the quality of life in Newham] is not displace people.

It is very easy to identify a borough with an geographical area – that is, after all, what they are – but improving Newham must mean more than just building homes for wealthier people to move into. The real test of the success of the Olympics will be if the people in Newham in 2005  are still there in 2013, and better off for it.

The Olympic stadium and the Orbit thing. Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

Photo: Getty
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.