When the BBC’s Norman Smith recently quizzed Zac Goldsmith in the back of a cab, the viral video of their conversation became perhaps the only instance of a “car crash interview” in which the interviewee would actually prefer a real car crash.
Not knowing that Holborn comes after Tottenham Court Road on the Central line, or that QPR (who are only in the second tier of English football) play at Loftus Road really concern many Londoners. Politicians really cannot win in the backseat cab format, either they are out of touch billionaires, or they are robotically overly-well-informed.
The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, North Kensington, recently hosted the #BackZac2016 campaign where local residents were given the opportunity to quiz Zac for themselves. Goldsmith also took questions on his green policies, policing in the capital, business rates, formula E in Battersea park, and the Heathrow expansion.
Goldsmith’s performance was a considered response to his backseat interview and it was by all accounts a return to form for the campaign.
After the Q&A, KCW Today discussed the campaign with Goldsmith where he explained how he would tackle the key issues facing Londoners if he becomes the next mayor.
Planning and Homes
Citing the examples of the Earl’s Court and Silchester Estate demolitions, KCW Today asked the candidate how he planned to deliver the homes and regeneration projects that the capital urgently needs.
Goldsmith explained that all too frequently regeneration projects have become “a very divisive issue, and not for real reasons, mostly political reasons.”
“You have a lot of old, dilapidated estates which need to be regenerated”, Goldsmith says, “there is no question about that.”
So presently Goldsmith says, “we get a massive, massive opportunity to increase the number of homes and improve the homes people are living in, strengthen communities, and build in a way that’s going to last much longer.”
Moreover, Goldsmith has committed to only do “estate regenerations where there is a clear green light from the residents.”
KCW Today has recently reported that residents in North Kensington’s, Silchester Estate, have complained that the plans to demolish huge parts of the estate amount to an attempt to “socially cleanse” area.
Under Goldsmith’s commitment “everyone there today gets to be there tomorrow if they want to be, and no one goes back into a house on a different rental stream to the one they left.”
Moreover, he adds “no one would take a step down in terms of quality”, claiming that “the idea is to put people in better homes, not smaller ones.
During the Q&A, members of the audience also probed Goldsmith on his housing policies, with one guest telling the candidate that “when my children grow up, they won’t be able to afford to live anywhere near me.”
Goldsmith answered by saying that “the biggest responsibility” for the next London mayor, “will be building more homes.”
He promised to do this by getting “a deal from government” who are “the biggest land owner in London,” citing the “huge amounts of publicly owned brownfield land, NHS land, the ministry of defence land, the ministry of justice land.”
The candidate explained that “brownfield land that is in public ownership has to be the first” to be developed, insisting that “the government has to release that land.” Zac also took the moment to claim that he alone would be best positioned to get such a deal from the government.
NHS and junior doctors
With more junior doctor’s strikes looming and increasing concerns about the health risks caused by pollution, KCW Today asked Goldsmith how he would improve the health of the capital?
Voters will get “massive health devolution to London, I’m sure that will happen”, he explains “but I don’t believe it’s going to happen overnight.”
While Goldsmith admires the devolution example set by “what Manchester has done, and is doing”, he is clear when he explains that the model can’t be copied “in London exactly – London is too big, so you’d have to have clusters.”
However, he does believe that the capital should be put “on a single health stream, one which reconciles funding for hospitals with social care and prevention, as well as promoting public health.”
How to beat Sadiq?
Finally, we asked Goldsmith the question everyone in the Tabernacle wanted to know: How will you beat Sadiq? And the answer was very clear:
“I’m going to spend every second of every minute between now and the 5th May talking to as many people as I possibly can.”
Earlier, when asked a similar question during the Q&A, Goldsmith had been even more bullish with his answer, claiming that as the race had developed he has come to believe that it is his “civic duty” to beat Sadiq.
“I feel that, as we get closer,” to the election, Goldsmith says, “people’s minds are focusing on the sheer importance of this election and what I think is a very important choice.”
However, from conversations I had with members of the audience Q&A, the most convincing argument Goldsmith gave was that he is better placed than Sadiq Khan to cut deals with the government.
One audience member, however, asked Goldsmith, “in the spirit of being helpful” if he was being too “honorable” by not ‘fighting fire with fire’ despite increasingly vociferous and personal attacks by Khan.Goldsmith responded by stating he was determined to “take down,” Khan, “whose judgement is appalling, whose associations are frightening, and who I believe through his inability or unwillingness to speak to the government would result in gridlock for London.” Nevertheless, he added that he “is not going to wage a negative war against Sadiq” because he believes the time between now and the election is better spent “telling voters what I can do as mayor.”
Goldsmith responded by stating he was determined to “take down,” Khan, “whose judgement is appalling, whose associations are frightening, and who I believe through his inability or unwillingness to speak to the government would result in gridlock for London.” Nevertheless, he added that he “is not going to wage a negative war against Sadiq” because he believes the time between now and the election is better spent “telling voters what I can do as mayor.”
Tomorrow, 5th May, London goes to the polls to elect the Greater London Authority (GLA) Assembly members and the new Mayor of London.