Zoë Garbett: We are beyond a housing crisis in London

In an exclusive interview, Green Party London Mayoral candidate Zoë Garbett explains her priorities for London

Zoe Garbett speaking at a rally

Londoners will go the polls to elect a new Mayor on 2 May 2024. The Green Party has long attracted substantial support in London Mayoral elections, coming third in the last three races. This year, the Greens have selected Hackney Councillor Zoë Garbett as their candidate for one of the most powerful political jobs outside of Westminster. In advance of the election, Left Foot Forward spoke to her about her campaign.

The 2024 Mayoral election is different to all those that have come before for one simple reason. The Tories have changed the electoral system. Previously, voters could express two preferences, and if their first choice didn’t make it into the top two candidates, their second preference would still be counted. Now, the election will take place under first past the post.

Incumbent Mayor Sadiq Khan has been using this fact as a campaigning tactic. He’s encouraging Green and Lib Dem voters to lend him their vote to stop the Tory candidate – Susan Hall – from winning.

Speaking to Left Foot Forward, the Green Party’s candidate Zoë Garbett argued that the risk of Hall winning is minimal. She pointed to the current opinion polls which, in recent months, have shown Khan between 13 and 25 points ahead of Hall.

Garbett told Left Foot Forward: “We feel that the Tories have thrown in the towel. But we absolutely haven’t. So, Greens are really present in this election. We’re engaging with communities. And we know that people really want the visions and the values that we’re putting forward. And people can vote for what they believe in in this election, and I think that’s what people need to remember.”

Garbett went on to say that Khan’s messaging hasn’t been cutting through. She said: “It’s not the sense that I’m getting from how people are feeling about the Greens at the moment. I know that we’re seeing a huge positive shift to us nationally. We’re obviously growing in Councillor numbers. But also we’re seeing people coming over to us because they’ve seen our position on Israel/Palestine, our really principled, compassionate policies to support communities, they can see and hear us out in their communities where they’ve got Councillors or where they’ve seen the Green Assembly Members working.

“People are saying they’re going to vote Green and want to support our vision and our values.”

What are those ‘vision and values’ then? The Green Party recently released its manifesto for the election. The document contains a series of eye-catching pledges, many of them seeking to address issues that have exacerbated the cost of living in London, including housing, low pay and transport.

On housing, a central plank of Garbett’s pitch is to get London’s sky-rocketing private rents under control. She told Left Foot Forward that “we are beyond a housing crisis in London. I hear this every day as a Councillor and I experience it as a private renter myself.”

“So, for private renters, I’d immediately set up a rent commission, and I’d fight for the powers to bring in rent controls, and make sure that’s a decision led by renters. It’s all about getting a better deal for renters and bringing rents down because people are being totally priced out of our city.”

She went on to say that she would prioritise delivering more social housing too, saying she would “also [make] sure we’re providing as [many] council properties as possible”, adding that “Greens have challenged the definition of ‘affordable’ in the London Plan, which is what we’d continue to do. So, [we would] make sure that shared ownership is never considered ‘affordable’ because it’s out of reach of most Londoners. So, making sure that when we’re building homes, a higher percentage of those are Council properties and also putting more money into acquiring homes – so Councils being able to buy properties that already exist as we know that gets us homes that we need quicker.”

It’s no surprise that tackling London’s housing crisis is high on the agenda for the Greens. It’s central to making London a more affordable city for people to live in and addressing the ongoing cost of living crisis. But Garbett has put another pledge to tackle the cost of living at the centre of her campaign. She’s said she’ll push for a £16 an hour London Living Wage to be rolled out by employers across the city – almost £3 more than what the Living Wage Foundation is campaigning for.

“Workers need to be paid for the work that they do and it needs to reflect the expense of living in this city,” Garbett told Left Foot Forward. She added: “Our modelling takes into account more factors around the expense of living in this city.”

Having an ambition for £16 an hour is one thing, but getting employers to take it up without changes to national minimum wage legislation is another. So how would Garbett deliver this? “I’ve done work on London Living Wage in the NHS, it’s part of what I did working with contractors and NHS suppliers to make sure that they were paying it and building it into procurement,” she said.

She added: “We know that councils are under a lot of pressure from having their government funding cut and stretched. So we know that it would take putting pressure on government to fund our public services better as well for them to be able to fund it. But I think it’s mainly about holding businesses and employers to account.

“I was with [the] IWGB [union] recently, and we just know that the current Mayor hasn’t been on the side of workers as strongly as he could have been, and this is all about using all the powers of the mayor to hold employers to account.”

Garbett’s transport commitments are equally ambitious. In her manifesto, she’s pledging to freeze bus fares, introduce free bus travel for under 22s and bring in a single low fare across all public transport. The obvious question that emerges from these is how would they be funded?

“The Mayor of London has a budget of over £20 billion, and my manifesto is full costed. I wouldn’t stand here in front of you with a manifesto that I hadn’t worked out all the sums for,” she told Left Foot Forward.

She conceded that the single fare across public transport in order to bring down outer-London fares is “an expensive policy”, saying that it would cost around £450 million, that it would be a “longer term ambition”, and that “it’s something we’d want to work towards, looking at perhaps starting with the DLR.”

Garbett said that the funding for free bus travel for under 22s would be “found within the TFL budget”, telling Left Foot Forward that it would cost tens of millions. She said that she would be “looking at priorities” within TFL to fund it, adding: “I wouldn’t have the off-peak travel on a Friday that the Mayor of London has put forward. We think that’s gimmicky and doesn’t focus on the communities that I’m hearing need to be prioritised for affordability of travelling around the city.”

Voters have just less than three weeks to decide who they’ll support in the Mayoral election. According to the latest poll, Sadiq Khan (Labour), is on 43%, Susan Hall (Tory) is on 30%, Zoë Garbett is on 10%, Rob Blackie (Lib Dem) is on 8% and Howard Cox (Reform) is on 7%.

Chris Jarvis is head of strategy and development at Left Foot Forward

Left Foot Forward has approached the progressive candidates for London Mayor for an interview. You can see our interview with the Liberal Democrat candidate Rob Blackie here.

Image credit: Steve Eason – Creative Commons

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