Cain and able?

As the GOP presidential candidates meet for their 10th debate, Herman Cain must prove he's more than

Either he's the Great Survivor, or this could be the beginning of the end of Herman Cain's unlikely campaign for the Presidency of the United States.

Thus far, the former pizza mogul has managed to coast a series of gaffes and scandals that would have felled most candidates. Now, there's a debate over whether these latest allegations of sexual harassment could prove a tipping point for the campaign that's surprised everyone who thought they could predict how the Republican race would turn out.

Look at the numbers, and Cain appears to be in a pretty comfortable position. The latest poll of polls from Real Clear Politics puts him at 25 per cent; ahead of Mitt Romney on 23. And that's after what must have been the worst week of his political life.

The reason is partly Cain's unashamed populism, coupled with his traditional conservative values that appeal so much to the Tea Party-kind of politics that has become mainstream Republicanism across much of the country.

As John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker, Cain -- more than anyone else in the GOP field -- has discovered a way of connecting with all those disillusioned Americans, fearful about the future and longing not for doom-mongering, but optimism. The businessman who proclaims himself a "problem solver, not a politician" sounds a surer bet than someone mired in the old-style partisan bickering which has given Washington such a bad name.

TA Frank, who profiles Cain for the upcoming edition of the New York Times Magazine, depicts a candidate who just seems to plough on regardless. Former staff members, he writes, describe him as a man with

zero interest in policy. They speak of events canceled at the last minute to accommodate any available television interview. They speak of unrelenting self-absorption, even by the standards of a politician. But they don't speak of someone who can't win.

So far, at least, this winning streak has kept Cain's supporters on his side -- prepared to carry on giving him the benefit of the doubt. But how long can that go on, as more women come forward, prepared to go on the record with their claims of sexual harassment? Surely daily press conferences denying scandals do not a Presidential candidate make?

Last night Cain gave his first real press conference on the subject, allowing reporters to ask questions -- then appearing on ABC, to reject the latest allegations from two women, Sharon Bialek and Karen Kraushaar, and insist that it wouldn't derail his campaign.

He brought along his very own celebrity attorney, claimed he was doing it all "for the children" and denied everything, point blank. "I can categorically say I have never acted inappropriately with anyone. Period." he said. Once again, he blamed the media and something he called the "Democratic Machine" for drumming it all up in the first place.

But tonight, as the GOP candidates meet for their 10th debate in Michigan, it's a crucial moment for Cain. His performance tonight could determine whether he can draw a line under the sexual harassment allegations and start talking about something else. It's a moment for his supporters to decide if they're justified in staying loyal. Or, Herman Cain could turn out to be just another maverick candidate whose novelty and hubris proves unable to stay the course.

Felicity Spector is a senior producer at Channel 4 News.

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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