Lammy on the warpath: Boris is a “comedian”, Zac Goldsmith is “stinking rich” and London is “in danger of falling apart”

LondonLovesBusiness meets the Tottenham MP running for mayor

Lammy megaphone

Cheeky Chappy - Lammy on his soapbox

David Lammy’s mayoral bid is a curiously personal project. He has been a hugely successful local MP, has held two cabinet positions under Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and at the last election was returned to parliament with a majority of 23,000.

He may not have the huge party machine that is backing the likes of Tessa Jowell behind him, and he doesn’t quite have the media profile enjoyed by Sadiq Khan or Diane Abbott, but his decision to run for mayor of London is grounded in an unbending determination to build and improve outer London – the London he grew up in.

“I really love this city but it is in danger of falling apart,” says Lammy when I meet him in parliament. “It’s in danger of becoming like Paris, with people priced out of the centre, real poverty at the fringes, and I’m afraid, soaring crime.”

The logic behind his campaign is straightforward. His grand plan centres on reducing inequality by building more houses on land already owned by the state, and by reclassifying wastelands on the greenbelt as brownbelt land so that new homes can be created.

How would he do this? “I’m the only candidate that’s got the money to build,” he tells me. “Housing is driving inequality, and I’m the only candidate that’s announced a £10bn bonds issue to actually raise money to build.”

He plans to use the £10bn from the bonds market to build 60,000 new homes in London.

“The real need is for family homes. I see it every week in my own constituency, with people in terribly overcrowded accommodation, yet what we’re building is huge penthouse suites that people can’t afford, or we’re in danger of building the tower block estates of the 60s and 70s that we’ll all want to knock down in 30 years’ time.”

I’m speaking to Lammy just as ballots for the mayoral election, and indeed Labour’s leadership election, go out, and his campaign, which began back in September 2014, is coming to its end.

And despite a relentless programme of appearances, which will continue until the votes are counted, Lammy seems pretty chilled out. “It’s been a long road for me,” he says, “and this is the culmination of that road. I have consistently gone up in the polls as well – the [Evening] Standard most recently put me second. It’s all to play for in the coming days as ballots fall and people make their decision.”

Competition

A more recent YouGov poll of Londoners has Lammy in fourth place, but there has been little detailed polling in the mayoral race, and the results may bear little resemblance to Labour’s new padded out London selectorate. Beyond consistent support for the frontrunner Tessa Jowell, the race has been difficult to call.

“I think [the race is] going very very well,” Lammy says. “I’m running a grassroots campaign, I’m an independent minded candidate, not a kind of Labour establishment candidate in the race.”

“Tessa has her strengths of course,” he says, when I ask about the competition, “but I’m raising the issues I think need to be raised, being myself, and we will see. In any election you don’t know the result until the result comes in. All I can see is that my campaign has momentum and it’s doing better and better every day.”

Banter

Part of that momentum is due to Lammy’s urge to get out onto the streets of London and engage with people – something he naturally excels at.

“I’ve rediscovered the cheeky chappy element of London on the streets,” Lammy tells me. “You know, standing on a soapbox in Islington Chapel Market and speaking, and having people shout back at you, and getting into banter, has been, not a revelation, but it’s been fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed it. I love that about London, and you don’t see it so much in the Westminster village.”

He certainly isn’t one to avoid confrontation, and during our interview railed at Boris Johnson’s record, describing him as a “comedian”, and at the Tories’ “stinking rich” mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith who he says has “strange policies” on Europe, housing and transport.

On Boris, Lammy says: “I certainly wouldn’t waste the funds that he’s wasted.”

“He’s wasted over £50m on a cable car that no one uses, £10m on an estuary airport that was never going to be built, £30m of taxpayers’ money on the Garden Bridge, a quarter of a million on water cannon.That’s money that I would be spending on youth services, on mentors, on childcare, it would make a huge contribution, never mind putting some of it back into building homes for ordinary Londoners.”

Meanwhile, he’s less than impressed with Goldsmith: “I think that Zac is young, independent minded and stinking rich, and I’m young, independent minded and not so rich.”

He says Goldsmith “has had strange policies on Europe, which is a huge threat to London, strange policies on airport capacity in my view, and strange policies on housing.

“I relish the fight. I relish taking the fight to Zac.”

“The future is electric cars”

Away from the housing and fighting, Lammy has a business oriented approach to transport.

“I’m very worried that people living in zones 4, 5, 6 are paying extraordinary fares to come into work,” he says. He wants to see free night buses for shift workers, and he would like to freeze fares for commuters coming from outer London.

He also wants to see fewer cars on the road.

“We’ll have to see fewer cars in London. The amount of private car hire and minicabs in London is largely because of Uber. There were 53,000 licences when Boris took over, there are now 77,000, and they’re causing congestion. Boris has just issued too many licences.”

All of the mayoral candidates have incorporated major policies on reducing pollution in London, and Lammy wants tough action taken on traffic in London.

“The mayor has power within the congestion charge, and can do a lot, and can take a view about the pollution that is killing our children in London.

“We need to move away from diesel cars. It’s diesel cars that cause the problem and I’d like to look at whether in the congestion charge we could price diesel cars out of the system, we need to accelerate electric cars in the same way that you see in Paris.”

Despite this, he supports expansion at Heathrow, putting him at odds with Sadiq Khan, Christian Wolmar and Zac Goldsmith who have all said they would oppose a third runway. But Lammy says “opening up new routes is really important in terms of China and India… as long as we can deal with noise and pollution”.

Business

For Lammy, improving London starts with helping everyday Londoners, and his business policies aim to serve the tens of thousands of small businesses that cover the capital.

“I would campaign for reductions in business rates,” he says. “I don’t see businesses in outer London thriving in quite the way they should be. There needs to be some rebalancing across the city.

“I spent a lot of time with small businesses after the riots, and these are high street businesses destroyed in Tottenham and Croydon and places like that, and what they said to me was that they were already struggling before the riots and that they just get forgotten.”

He also warns that leaving Europe would make life harder for businesses in London, and says as mayor he would campaign to stay in the union.

Corbynmania

Lammy was one of the 35 MPs who nominated Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. But regardless of this nomination, Lammy says he will give his vote to one of the other candidates.

“Despite the noise about the leadership race, half of the members of the Labour Party are undecided,” he says when I challenge him on not voting for who he nominated.

“When I nominated Jeremy, it was very much because he’s my neighbour, he’s a nice guy, but I don’t think that he will persuade the country that he can become prime minister,” he adds.

Why not? Because “Jeremy’s been a rebel all of his life, and I think he’ll find it very hard to lead,” he says, “but I do think it’s important that his voice is heard around the table”.

Is he concerned that the selection process is being “infiltrated” by people on the right? Not a bit of it.

“I think it’s fantastic that people are coming to the bloody Labour Party,” he says emphatically. “It’s fantastic. It’s great news that so many people have joined. And so many young people have joined. So I think people need to calm down and enjoy the democratic process.”

Lammy seems to be doing just that, for now.

But when the results are announced, and if he hasn’t received enough votes, would he consider a position in a Corbyn-led shadow cabinet?

“Of course,” he says, without hesitating. “Yeah. I’ve known Jeremy a very long time. He’s my neighbour in Islington North, and I could work with him.”

There are plenty of options for David Lammy, and whatever happens on September 12, one thing is certain – he’s in the mayoral race for the right reasons. And for this he should win a great deal of support.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • I do not understand why London Transport sell their buses and buy electric buses, I am sure this will be a good business and a good way of reducing pollution in London
    At the end nobody is interested really

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