Gareth Thomas MP has joined the race for the London Mayor election, for the Labour Party. Mr Thomas, who has been chairing the Co-operative Party since 2001, proposes a co-operative approach to London’s challenges, particularly in areas such as public transport, housing and energy.
A party perceived by some Londoners as “anti-business”, Labour has not won the mayoral election since 2008. Asked how he would change that perception, Mr Thomas says he supported the expansion of Heathrow and would use the revenues generated to introduce electric cars and busses and improve safety of cyclists.
“I’m a strong supporter of expansion of Heathrow and Gatwick, something the business sector and Unite and GMB support. That’s the biggest economic decision that any London mayor is going to have to face in the next few years,” he says.
Another question that has been a cause of concern for London entrepreneurs is the potential exit of the UK from the EU. Several banks have announced they were considering their position in case the UK decided to leave the EU. A former shadow minister for Europe, Mr Thomas thinks a break from the EU would be a “complete disaster”.
“Many businesses would leave London, it would be a huge problem for jobs, London would be less attractive to businesses … It would be a huge mistake,” he says.
Mr Thomas, who was recently elected as MP for Harrow West for a fourth consecutive term, is also the only candidate from outer London, an area where Labour has lost in the past. This gives him an advantage over the other candidates, he argues, and brings a different perspective to the issues facing Londoners.
One issue he would address is housing; Mr Thomas believes the London Mayor should be given powers to regulate private sector rents and he supports a specific statutory minimum wage for London. He would also plan to form a mayoral housing company to champion social housing, encompassing Transport for London’s (TfL) land assets.
“We need land reform because it is the high price of land and speculation that is helping to make housing so expensive in London,” he says, adding that he would want to use mayoral planning powers to impose more stringent demands on property developers to deliver affordable homes.
“London should have the same power as Scotland over housing. In Scotland they decided not to go ahead with the Right to Buy – and maybe that’s the solution in London. London needs the power to take decisions itself over housing or minimum wage. This should be devolved to London, it shouldn’t be decided by people in Whitehall, it should be left to London.”
The MP also backs the idea of housing associations being able to borrow money from local people to fund the building of low cost homes in their areas. Mr Thomas wants all Londoners paying council tax to be able to become members of TfL and be given a say in its fare-setting and spending plans. Turning TfL into a mutual would mean every Londoner would be able to have a say in decisions, he says.
“If Londoners had more of a say, the crisis London is having accessing the tube network would have been solved a long time ago.”
Gaining access to affordable financial services is another concern for many of those in the capital. Mr Thomas aims to support credit unions to provide these services by encouraging them to present common offers that could be advertised on public transport. “This would help put London less at risk of being the target of payday lenders and other high cost lenders,” he says, adding that this is how Desjardins Group started in Canada: by putting a common offer across Quebec.
“I also think we need to make sure the City works for Londoners; more money from financial services should be invested in housing, low carbon projects, or projects to tackle access to financial goods services. I would like to set up a small business bank based on one of the existing community banks and use a hotel occupancy levy to help establish it and then address some of the shortages that many entrepreneurs face when they want to expand and create new jobs.”
Energy is another sector where Mr Thomas thinks co-operative principles could make a difference. He believes London’s potential for solar energy is “huge”, and would aim to help community groups wishing to set up solar energy co-ops and work with them to identify spots or roofs on buildings where community groups could put solar panels up.
“Greenpeace are encouraging schools to look at solar energy co-ops, using schools to put solar panels up and help crowd source funding for local communities”. If it works for a number of schools, then it should work in different communities across London, he says. “The London Mayor ought to help using TfL land and other public land.”
He thinks Londoners could also co-operate to bring the 2026 Commonwealth Games to the city, or have the capital named European Capital of Culture.
Gareth Thomas is one of six Labour candidates shortlisted for the Mayor of London election in 2016. Labour Party members, members of affiliated organisations and registered supporters will vote in the election, based on the one member, one vote rule, and the result will be announced on the weekend of 12-13 September.