London can do better: a review of Our London by Sadiq Khan

The shadow London minister's book sets out the policies required to prevent the capital becoming an ever-more divided city.

London is one of the greatest cities on earth. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed London at its best. The Games were, for many Londoners, the proudest moment in recent British history. London is a diverse, dynamic and youthful city, with a vibrant community and an impressive arts and cultural scene.

But like many large cities worldwide, London has its share of problems – overcrowding, child poverty, unemployment and homelessness – to name a few. Poverty and inequality are growing. The jobless rate in my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow, remains among the highest in the country, and many are struggling to make ends meet. The cost of living crisis is leaving many Londoners behind and our booming population is putting unprecedented strain on our transport and infrastructure.

It will take bold and decisive action to tackle these problems to build a better city over the next decade. In his new book, Our London, published by the Fabian Society, Labour’s shadow London minister, Sadiq Khan MP, sets out ambitious and exciting ideas for how Labour can make the capital a better city for Londoners.

It’s encouraging to read about innovative ideas for London’s future. Our mayoral system means that elections disappointingly look more like a beauty pageant than a battle of competing visions for our city. With consecutive elections for London councils, Westminster and the mayoralty over the next three years, Labour must ensure this does not happen again. 

Sadiq has brought together leading experts including Andrew Adonis on transport, Doreen Lawrence on equality, Jenny Jones on the environment and Tony Travers on the powers of London Government to get to the heart of the major challenges that London faces. It is refreshing to see a leading politician encouraging debate on a crucial issue that affects the lives of some eight million Londoners.

This book contains many interesting ideas. A London minimum wage to match our higher cost of living; free school meals for all children; more powers and financial freedom devolved from Whitehall to City Hall and Town Halls; restarting the'‘London Challenge' to make all our schools outstanding (something which along with exceptional leadership by teachers saw record improvement of schools in my borough over the past decade); strategic planning for the NHS across London; and a new infrastructure programme to build more roads, bridges, tunnels and train lines.

I am delighted that in his foreword for the book, Ed Miliband says that Labour will consider these ideas as we plan our manifesto for 2015; if even just a few of these ideas are picked up, it could vastly improve the lives of millions of Londoners.

As an MP for a London constituency which has high levels of inequality and deprivation, Sadiq’s chapter in which he outlines our plans to tackle London’s housing crisis is particularly striking.  Week in week out, I meet people who have to live at home well into their thirties and even forties. Overcrowding occurs at a distressing level. Buying a house in London is increasingly an unaffordable dream for all but the wealthiest. Sadiq’s plans to make renting more affordable and secure and improve standards in the rented sector could radically change lives in my constituency and would put ‘affordable housing’ back into the reach of ordinary Londoners.

Our London is a must read for everyone concerned about our capital’s future. It shows that Labour is most powerful when encouraging debate rather than closing it down. It shows that we can achieve more change when working together. It shows that we can be ambitious for the scale of change we want to achieve, even during a time of tightened finances. I hope that this book does kick-start a conversation about the future of our city. London can and must do better than it is and we must all work to ensure it doesn't become a divided city that squeezes out most people from the city apart from the wealthy. 

Our London is edited by Sadiq Khan and published by the Fabian Society. You can download a copy here.

The river Thames seen from Tower Bridge at night, with the Shard skyscraper on the left and the City of London on the right. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rushanara Ali is Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and shadow international development minister.

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Inside Big Ben: why the world’s most famous clock will soon lose its bong

Every now and then, even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care.

London is soon going to lose one of its most familiar sounds when the world-famous Big Ben falls silent for repairs. The “bonging” chimes that have marked the passing of time for Londoners since 1859 will fall silent for months beginning in 2017 as part of a three-year £29m conservation project.

Of course, “Big Ben” is the nickname of the Great Bell and the bell itself is not in bad shape – even though it does have a huge crack in it.

The bell weighs nearly 14 tonnes and it cracked in 1859 when it was first bonged with a hammer that was way too heavy.

The crack was never repaired. Instead the bell was rotated one eighth of a turn and a lighter (200kg) hammer was installed. The cracked bell has a characteristic sound which we have all grown to love.

Big Ben strikes. UK Parliament.

Instead, it is the Elizabeth Tower (1859) and the clock mechanism (1854), designed by Denison and Airy, that need attention.

Any building or machine needs regular maintenance – we paint our doors and windows when they need it and we repair or replace our cars quite routinely. It is convenient to choose a day when we’re out of the house to paint the doors, or when we don’t need the car to repair the brakes. But a clock just doesn’t stop – especially not a clock as iconic as the Great Clock at the Palace of Westminster.

Repairs to the tower are long overdue. There is corrosion damage to the cast iron roof and to the belfry structure which keeps the bells in place. There is water damage to the masonry and condensation problems will be addressed, too. There are plumbing and electrical works to be done for a lift to be installed in one of the ventilation shafts, toilet facilities and the fitting of low-energy lighting.

Marvel of engineering

The clock mechanism itself is remarkable. In its 162-year history it has only had one major breakdown. In 1976 the speed regulator for the chimes broke and the mechanism sped up to destruction. The resulting damage took months to repair.

The weights that drive the clock are, like the bells and hammers, unimaginably huge. The “drive train” that keeps the pendulum swinging and that turns the hands is driven by a weight of about 100kg. Two other weights that ring the bells are each over a tonne. If any of these weights falls out of control (as in the 1976 incident), they could do a lot of damage.

The pendulum suspension spring is especially critical because it holds up the huge pendulum bob which weighs 321kg. The swinging pendulum releases the “escapement” every two seconds which then turns the hands on the clock’s four faces. If you look very closely, you will see that the minute hand doesn’t move smoothly but it sits still most of the time, only moving on each tick by 1.5cm.

The pendulum swings back and forth 21,600 times a day. That’s nearly 8m times a year, bending the pendulum spring. Like any metal, it has the potential to suffer from fatigue. The pendulum needs to be lifted out of the clock so that the spring can be closely inspected.

The clock derives its remarkable accuracy in part from the temperature compensation which is built into the construction of the pendulum. This was yet another of John Harrison’s genius ideas (you probably know him from longitude fame). He came up with the solution of using metals of differing temperature expansion coefficient so that the pendulum doesn’t change in length as the temperature changes with the seasons.

In the Westminster clock, the pendulum shaft is made of concentric tubes of steel and zinc. A similar construction is described for the clock in Trinity College Cambridge and near perfect temperature compensation can be achieved. But zinc is a ductile metal and the tube deforms with time under the heavy load of the 321kg pendulum bob. This “creeping” will cause the temperature compensation to jam up and become less effective.

So stopping the clock will also be a good opportunity to dismantle the pendulum completely and to check that the zinc tube is sliding freely. This in itself is a few days' work.

What makes it tick

But the truly clever bit of this clock is the escapement. All clocks have one - it’s what makes the clock tick, quite literally. Denison developed his new gravity escapement especially for the Westminster clock. It decouples the driving force of the falling weight from the periodic force that maintains the motion of the pendulum. To this day, the best tower clocks in England use the gravity escapement leading to remarkable accuracy – better even than that of your quartz crystal wrist watch.

In Denison’s gravity escapement, the “tick” is the impact of the “legs” of the escapement colliding with hardened steel seats. Each collision causes microscopic damage which, accumulated over millions of collisions per year, causes wear and tear affecting the accuracy of the clock. It is impossible to inspect the escapement without stopping the clock. Part of the maintenance proposed during this stoppage is a thorough overhaul of the escapement and the other workings of the clock.

The Westminster clock is a remarkable icon for London and for England. For more than 150 years it has reminded us of each hour, tirelessly. That’s what I love about clocks – they seem to carry on without a fuss. But every now and then even the most famous of clocks need a bit of care. After this period of pampering, “Big Ben” ought to be set for another 100 or so years of trouble-free running.

The Conversation

Hugh Hunt is a Reader in Engineering Dynamics and Vibration at the University of Cambridge.

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.