Sadiq Khan poses for the cameras. Photo:Getty Images
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Why Sadiq Khan is the candidate with the best offer for renters

A fair deal for London's renters should be the first priority for London's next Mayor. For my money, Sadiq Khan is the man with the plan.

 

Anyone who knows me knows I’m obsessed with housing, and with good reason. A generation of politicians have failed to tackle the problems in London’s housing market. So I’m delighted to see two of the front runners in our mayoral race have unveiled their housing agendas in today’s Evening Standard.

No group has been let down by a generation of political failure on housing more than private tenants. With a strong focus on London's two million private tenants, Sadiq Khan has set out a comprehensive plan to make renters' lives better. As someone who has spent my career campaigning on housing issues, today was the day that Sadiq won my vote. 

By 2027, more Londoners will rent from a private landlord than own their own home. The average private tenant pays just under half their income in rent, and that figure is rising fast. But paying more rent doesn't mean living in a nicer flat or getting a better service - forty per cent of Londoners experienced problems with damp last year, and a third of say they cannot trust their letting agent. 

Sadiq has a comprehensive plan to reduce the cost of renting, improve the condition of rented homes and give more stability to renters. It consists of four crucial points:

1. To introduce a ‘London Living Rent’ option for new affordable housing. This will be a below-market rent, based on the principle that rents should be around one-third of renters’ incomes and not half. This will provide a genuinely 'affordable' option, filling the gap between the new social housing we need to build and homes for private sale or rent. By keeping rents down, tenants will be able to afford their rents while saving for a deposit if they want to. 

2. Sadiq will establish a London-wide not-for-profit letting agency, building on the work of Labour councils like Hackney and Islington in a federal structure. This agency will provide good landlords and tenants with a responsible and reliable alternative to private lettings agencies, while promoting longer-term tenancies and stable rents.

3. The Mayor's office will crack down on rogue landlords and publish a regular list of the best and worst landlords in the capital. Sadiq’s plan proposes cross-borough action against the worst offenders and encouraging local authorities to set up licensing schemes, like Newham has done.

4. Sadiq will campaign with Londoners for the power to freeze rents and for new rules to ensure that if necessary repairs are not started by  landlords within a reasonable time period, tenants will be able to carry them out and deduct the cost from the rent. A rent freeze over the last four years would have saved the average London renter £5,615 that could have been saved towards a deposit.

As a package this plan will make an immense difference to the lives of London's two million private renters. Over the coming weeks Sadiq will be announcing further important measures to tackle London's housing crisis. I can think of no more important thing for the next Mayor of London to do and that is why I will be campaigning for Sadiq Khan to be Labour's candidate next May.

Tom Copley is a Labour member of the London Assembly

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Charlottesville: a town haunted by the far right

Locals fear a bitter far right will return.

On 12 August, a car ploughed down pedestrians in the street where I used to buy my pecan pies. I had recently returned to London from Charlottesville, Virginia – the scene of what appears to have been an act of white supremacist terrorism – having worked and taught at the university there for four years. While I unpacked boxes of books, the streets I knew so well were full of hate and fire.

The horror began on the evening of Friday 11 August, when thugs with torches marched across the “Lawn”. Running through the heart of the university, this is where, each Halloween, children don ghoulish costumes and trick-or-treat delighted and generous fourth-year undergraduates.

But there were true monsters there that night. They took their stand on the steps of the neoclassical Rotunda – the site of graduation – to face down a congregation about to spill out of St Paul’s Episcopal opposite.

Then, on Saturday morning, a teeming mass of different groups gathered in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park), where my toddler ran through splash pads in the summer.

We knew it was coming. Some of the groups were at previous events in Charlottesville’s “summer of hate”. Ever since a permit was granted for the “Unite the Right” march, we feared that this would be a tipping point. I am unsure whether I should have been there, or whether I was wise to stay away.

The truth is that this had nothing to do with Charlottesville – and everything to do with it. From one perspective, our small, sleepy university town near the Blue Ridge Mountains was the victim of a showdown between out-of-towners. The fighting was largely not between local neo-Nazis and African Americans, or their white neighbours, for that matter. It was between neo-Nazis from far afield – James Alex Fields, Jr, accused of being the driver of the lethal Dodge Challenger, was born in Kentucky and lives in Ohio – and outside groups such as “Antifa” (anti-fascist). It was a foreign culture that was foisted upon the city.

Charlottesville is to the American east coast what Berkeley is to the west: a bastion of liberalism and political correctness, supportive of the kind of social change that the alt-right despises. Just off camera in the national newsfeeds was a banner hung from the public  library at the entrance of Emancipation Park, reading: “Proud of diversity”.

I heard more snippets of information as events unfolded. The counter-protesters began the day by drawing on the strength of the black church. A 6am prayer meeting at our local church, First Baptist on Main (the only church in Charlottesville where all races worshipped together before the Civil War), set the tone for the non-violent opposition.

The preacher told the congregation: “We can’t hate these brothers. They have a twisted ideology and they are deeply mistaken in their claim to follow Christ, but they are still our brothers.” Then he introduced the hymns. “The resistance of black people to oppression has only been kept alive through music.”

The congregation exited on to Main Street, opposite my old butcher JM Stock Provisions, and walked down to the statue of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark – the early 19th-century Bear Grylls types who explored the west. They went past Feast! – the delicacy market where we used to spend our Saturday mornings – and on to the dreamy downtown mall where my wife and I strolled on summer evenings and ate southern-fried chicken at the Whiskey Jar.

The permit for the “protest” was noon to 5pm but violence erupted earlier. Between 10.30am and 12pm, the white supremacists, protected by a paramilitary guard, attacked their opponents. As the skirmishes intensified, police were forced to encircle the clashing groups and created, in effect, a bizarre zone of “acceptable” violence. Until the governor declared a state of emergency, grown men threw bottles of piss at each other.

At noon, the crowd was dispersed and the protesters spilled out into the side streets. This was when the riot climaxed with the horrific death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Throughout Saturday afternoon and evening, the far-right groups marauded the suburbs while residents locked their doors and closed their blinds.

I sat in London late into the night as information and prayer requests trickled through. “There are roughly 1,000 Nazis/KKK/alt-right/southern nationalists still around – in a city of 50,000 residents. If you’re the praying type, keep it up.”

No one in Charlottesville is in any doubt as to how this atrocity became possible. Donald Trump has brought these sects to group consciousness. They have risen above their infighting to articulate a common ground, transcending the bickering that mercifully held them back in the past.

In the immediate aftermath, there is clarity as well as fury. My colleague Charles Mathewes, a theologian and historian, remarked: “I still cannot believe we have to fight Nazis – real, actual, swastika-flag-waving, be-uniformed, gun-toting Nazis, along with armed, explicit racists, white supremacists and KKK members. I mean, was the 20th century simply forgotten?”

There is also a sense of foreboding, because the overwhelming feeling with which the enemy left was not triumph but bitterness. Their permit had been to protest from noon to 5pm. They terrorised a town with their chants of “Blood and soil!” but their free speech was apparently not heard. Their safe space, they claim, was not protected.

The next day, the organiser of the march, Jason Kessler, held a press conference to air his grievances. The fear is that the indignant white supremacists will be back in greater force to press their rights.

If that happens, there is one certainty. At one point during the dawn service at First Baptist, a black woman took the stand. “Our people have been oppressed for 400 years,” she said. “What we have learned is that the only weapon which wins the war is love.”

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear