Parties need a strategic housing policy that accounts for renters. Photo: Getty
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As more people rent, politicians can't rely on the same old home-owning swing voters

Parties will have to shift focus as, by the next census in 2021, roughly 104 parliamentary seats will have a majority of households that are renting.

The First Past The Post electoral system leads to some pretty stagnant thinking when it comes to the main political parties. They’re basically all chasing the votes of the same home-owning swing voters in the provinces with a garnish of xenophobia on the side to win back the Ukip waverers. But the electoral calculus is changing and we’re starting to see politicians respond to this.

Recently we crunched the numbers from the past two census returns, remapping the data against the current parliamentary boundaries. And we found that by the next census in 2021, roughly 104 parliamentary seats will have a majority of households that are renting. Unsurprisingly, 49 seats, almost half the total, were in London, with most of the rest in other urban areas.

This leaves the parties with a conundrum; can you be a party that is for provincial baby boomers and the urban young at the same time? And with the London election only one year after the general election, this isn't an abstract question.

The mayoralty can only be won by Labour, the Conservatives or an insurgent independent candidate - maybe a Green. The Conservatives are facing a problem in the form of a rapid decrease in the number of homeowners compared to renters, however, with a colourful candidate and a low Labour turnout, they can still win.

Labour on the other hand has a bigger problem. Its lack of a coherent housing policy lets down the 35% of Londoners who, according to Ipsos Mori, say that housing is their number one issue of concern. A failure to address this is precisely what will give the Conservatives the low Labour turnout that they need.


Most of Labour's putative mayoral candidates have clearly recognised that they have no chance of winning if they toe the party line and Hackney MP Diane Abbott has gone further than the rest with her publication this week (with us) of her proposal for a modern take on rent controls.

This plan sets a low cap, related to council tax bands, but allows landlords to breach that cap on the condition that they pay 50% of the excess into a social housebuilding investment fund controlled by the Mayor.

The graceful effect of this is that landlords either charge low rents, or they fund housing supply, which will bring rents down, creating a long term market convergence towards the capped price. The more they charge, the more they fund truly affordable housing.

We're happy to work with any mayoral hopeful (OK, not the BNP) to come up with great housing policies. But Labour will scupper the chances of its own candidate if they fail - potentially in government - to win credibility with London's renters.

Failing to address the London housing crisis or to empower a candidate to do so will leave Londoners hungry for a better option. This is just the sort of fertile ground in which someone like Russell Brand, or the Green Party could seed a strong mayoral candidacy.

Electoral failure for Labour doesn't depend on an insurgent candidate winning. Labour will know it has lost its London heartlands if it comes third, even if that insurgent candidate only comes second. This would highlight, ward by ward in fact, those areas of London that are willing to vote for what they really want rather than just voting Labour to keep out the Conservatives.

In a fragmenting political landscape Labour still clings desperately to its "least bad potential government" electoral strategy, which has already allowed the SNP, Ukip and the Greens to eat away at their support. With a strategic housing policy that actually addresses the crisis people face, Labour could start to win back enthusiastic supporters. And if they (or the other parties) would like such a policy platform, we're happy to help them develop it.

Alex Hilton is director of Generation Rent. See its rent control campaign here and read its publication on rent control here.

Photo: Getty
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The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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