THE BLOG

The Mayoral Race for a Cleaner, Greener London

13/10/2015 17:25 BST | Updated 13/10/2016 10:12 BST

Londoners are right to demand vision and leadership from their mayor. This is one of the world's great cities, and it faces huge challenges today. But making our future the best it possibly can be is part of what being a Londoner is all about.

Next year London votes for its next mayor, 60 years after the Clean Air Act was first passed to liberate its people from lethal smog. With scandals about air pollution and diesel fumes hitting the headlines again, it's no surprise that an ICM poll this week finds that the dream of a cleaner, greener London could be the battleground on which the mayoral race is won or lost.

The results are striking: only 16% of Londoners think politicians are doing enough to protect our shared environment, and a large majority say they should be doing more. Over two-thirds of respondents say that it is important for the next mayor to shift the city toward renewable energy and tackle air pollution. Similar numbers confirm they are more likely to vote for a candidate who is committed to bold policies on clean energy, zero waste and a green economy.

These issues are part of the new centre-ground of politics in London, concerning voters from across the political spectrum and from inner-city Camden to outer boroughs like Croydon. What is more, the swing voters who will decide the next mayoral election through their second preferences are looking greener and more up for grabs than ever before.

More voters than ever before say they plan to vote Green as their first preference, with fully 13% considering it. And none of the candidates have closed the deal with the electorate on this agenda. Zac Goldsmith is associated with green issues by 24% of those who know his name. The Green's Sian Berry commands 18% on this area among those who recognize her name, and Sadiq Khan is linked to green issues by 9% of those who are aware of him. With the winds of new politics blowing from all sides, victory may come down to who offers the boldest vision of a cleaner, greener city, and the most credible promise of a better life for all Londoners.

London has renewed itself many times before - pioneering massive public transport, energy and sewage investment, refreshing our urban fabric every generation, and inventing whole new industries. At its best London is a city powered by human ingenuity, united by common purpose and endeavour. Together, we have what it takes to transform generational challenges into opportunities - from pollution and climate change to transport and housing.

But it's clear from the ICM research that Londoners know they can't do it on their own. They expect their leaders, in particular their Mayor, to use their powers to act on this. Those powers are both relevant and substantive. From transport to planning, the Mayor can make a huge difference to the energy Londoners use in getting around our city, and to the new homes we need to build to tackle the housing crisis.

An entrepreneurial Mayor could play an even greater role in creating public value and serving citizens' needs. Like the 19th-century mayors who built water, sewage and power grids, cities from Munich to San Francisco have already been creating municipal clean energy companies and collective buying schemes. Groups like 38 Degrees and the Big Deal are organizing mass bottom-up switches to clean energy, while more and more Londoners are making their homes efficient and using apps to control our heating and our bills.

Smart solutions like these take on the bloated and lazy cartel of big energy corporates. Increasingly, they make good business sense for our household and public budgets, as well as for our health and environment. There is no reason why London's next mayor should not lead it to the forefront of the distributed-energy revolution. If we seize opportunities like these and invest in the right skills, many of our jobs of the future could be generated by clean tech, green finance and the Teslas of the future.

Some would like to dismiss this agenda, branding those who care about it and vote on it as caught up in "lifestyle" politics. But the research conducted by ICM indicates that this isn't just about feeling good, or a knee-jerk reaction to gloom-laden headlines. A broad base of Londoners across parties and demographics want to see action. They are moved by the universal aspiration for a better life for us and our children, and by the understanding that the building of a better economy is an urgent practical need.

We are in a race to the future. London should be at the very forefront of that race, and we all stand to benefit from a bold vision and leadership. But under Boris Johnson we have fallen behind on existing goals to cut London's emissions by 60% by 2025. Meanwhile, other cities around the world are leaping ahead. Cities from Sydney to Vancouver are committing to power themselves with 100% renewable energy, and 23% of new cars in Norway are now electric-powered. These innovations aren't just dealing with the downsides of progress: they are driving cleaner, better economic growth. They are progress.

Candidates from the mainstream parties should look closely at this research and what is happening around the world, and work out how to articulate a vision and policies to woo voters who want to live in a city that can help fulfil their hopes and dreams for a better life.

The next Mayor can make great strides in solving problems that bug our daily lives, like dirty air, fuel poverty and congested roads - while also leading the way on energy security, climate change and economic renewal. A cleaner, greener London will be a city empowered to seize the opportunities of the future, and the candidate who owns this vision most could win key swing votes and second preferences to become our next Mayor. The race is on.