London is a wonderful city, but we can all see it has problems. The housing crisis, rising inequality, a transport system that too often feels like it doesn’t work for us – the list goes on.
Labour politics is about putting our values into action – delivering real change for the people we came into politics to represent. So when I look at the London Mayoral contest, the question for me – as a long-standing trade unionist – is simple: who can deliver the change that London needs?
This week, a group of working people from across London have come together to establish Trade Unionists for Tessa. We come from a wide range of unions and represent every level of the movement, from former General Secretaries to new grassroots members. Tessa Jowell has brought us together because we know she can deliver the change that Londoners need.
Tessa’s record of working with trade unions is second to none. As part of her focus on delivering the Olympics, Tessa agreed a progressive partnership with the construction unions – ensuring that the thousands of workers who built and delivered the games were well treated and properly rewarded, and setting new standards for apprenticeships, training and health and safety.
As minister for the Cabinet Office she chaired the Public Services Forum, which brought the Government, trade unions and employers together to address workforce issues and ensure that fairly paid and supported staff were able to deliver high-quality services with proper and sustainable funding.
Wherever you come from, our city is supposed to hold a simple promise – that this is a place where you can fulfil your ambitions and make a life. But for too many people, this promise is not being kept.
For most working people in London, the biggest barrier to achieving the life they want is finding an affordable place to live. Home ownership is increasingly out of reach in London’s frenetic housing market, and standards in the private rented sector are falling while prices are going through the roof. And hundreds of thousands of people are languishing on social housing waiting lists. All of the other challenges facing London’s workers – from low pay to lack of skills and opportunities – can be made intolerable by the housing crisis.
Londoners are suffering through a combination of the Government’s indifference to the crisis, and the Mayor’s inability to get a grip. We need a mayor who gets the scale of London’s housing crisis, who knows what to do about it, and who can be trusted to deliver. That mayor is, without doubt, Tessa Jowell.
Tessa has a clear, deliverable plan to deal with the housing crisis. She will set up a new, TfL-style agency called Homes for Londoners which will get London building again for the first time since the 1980s – starting on the Mayor’s own land. Homes for Londoners will use public land to build the homes Londoners need – including innovative ‘rent to buy’ homes which will help London workers get on the housing ladder, new social housing, and purpose-built private rented homes to ensure better standards in that sector.
Crucially, Homes for Londoners will invest in thousands of young people so they can develop the skills to work in the construction industry, through a major apprenticeship programme. This is part of Tessa’s wider One London vision, which is about ensuring that everyone – no matter what their background – has the chance to share in London’s success.
But politics isn’t just about having plans and ideas – it’s about winning, and getting things done. Tessa is by far the best candidate on both those fronts.
First – she can win next year for Labour. If the party loses again in 2016 it won’t be able to do a thing for the Londoners that need it the most. It’s clear that Tessa is best placed to beat the Tories – the latest poll puts her head and shoulders above the Conservative frontrunner. We cannot deliver for the people we got in to politics to represent unless we start winning elections again – and Tessa is the woman to do it.
Secondly, she is a real leader. Leadership is not just about talking about changing society – it’s about actually getting things done. I know from personal experience that Tessa has that ability in spades. She has a natural empathy which gets people on her side, and ultimately helps her get things done.
I first met Tessa in 1995 when the then Conservative Government was seeking to break up the London Ambulance Service. This was an irrational proposal which would seriously weaken LAS’s ability to provide an essential emergency service to the city. Tessa sat on the Common’s Health Select Committee and gave invaluable assistance to the ambulance unions in finding our way around Parliamentary systems to help us succeed in making our case to keep a single ambulance service for London.
I next met Tessa on 8 July 2005 when as Minister for London she pulled representatives of staff working for London’s emergency services together to say thank you for their bravery and professionalism in responding to 7/7. It was clearly a very intense and fraught day for her but she made the time to meet people who had put their lives at risk for others in the course of their job and took the opportunity to ask their opinion on how the city’s emergency systems could be improved for the future. She understands the workers in the front line matter as much as the management – a rare quality in a politician.
It’s that combination of empathy and focus on delivery which is Tessa Jowell’s trademark. People always talk about what Tessa did to win and deliver the Olympics and create Sure Start, but they are not exceptions – she’s always focused on turning Labour values into action.
That’s why I trust Tessa to deliver for working Londoners. We need a mayor who understands what London needs, and who knows how to bring about that change. Tessa can be that mayor, which is why more working people from across our city are joining Team Tessa every day.
Linda Perks is Secretary of London TULO and is writing in a personal capacity.To join Trade Unionists for Tessa email firstname.lastname@example.org.