Rory Stewart campaign: Energy, grip and the London of 700 villages
The “key thing” about London is that it is “not one single place”, he said, but “700 villages, each with its own identity”. “I want to think of it in terms of creating a village hall in every one of those 700 villages,” he said. By that he meant “a place which can function as a youth club, or as a community centre.
Resplendent in a suit of midnight blue, Rory Stewart explained; that what he called his “strange and sinister” attire had been donned for an event he’d just come from that entailed sharing a stage with John Bercow – it seems the former House of Commons Speaker had had a lot to say.
Stewart announced his campaign last October while cementing his uncoupling from the Conservative Party and re-birth as a roving Independent. The “key thing” about London is that it is “not one single place”, he said, but “700 villages, each with its own identity”. The challenge for him as Mayor would be “bringing those communities to life and bringing them together”. Underlying this, he continued, are “three fundamental things we need to get right for London before we can make the human city of which we dream”. He stressed that those three things are “quite basic”: safety, affordable housing and transport.
Elaborating, he drew on a unifying thread of his campaign pitch: a promise to bring a relentless practicality to bear on getting those “quite basic” things done. Violent crime of many kinds has become too prevalent in the capital, he said, but “we can turn this around” – as prisons minister (from January 2018 until May 2019) he had driven down the levels of violence in jails by “getting the basics right”. He said a public health approach is part of the answer, as is better ground-level engagement to turn people away from crime, but “don’t let anyone tell you this can be done without [more] police on the streets”.
On housing, he stressed the need for more affordable homes, for nurses and teachers, for families, for young and for old. “And we can deliver them,” he said. “The mistake that has been made is to try to deliver it exclusively through the private sector. We have huge resources: public land, and the public should be leading the programme in delivering that affordable housing.” Asked later to elucidate, he declined, explaining that a large housing policy announcement will be coming soon, and that he didn’t want to give too much away.
He then warmed to his “700 villages” theme. “I want to think of it in terms of creating a village hall in every one of those 700 villages,” he said. By that he meant “a place which can function as a youth club, or as a community centre, a place where children can go to do their homework who may find themselves unable to do it in a noisy home. A place where great local people – people that you know – that champion an area can bring it together and tap into the extraordinary desire for volunteering.” To close, he spoke of “delivering with energy and grip” and “laying the foundations to build a great new city. The way we do that is with you – with every single one of you – and above all, with less politics and more action.”
How far can Stewart go? The meeting in Hammersmith was both novel and familiar: novel, because Stewart himself is, with his background experience of yomping across his old parliamentary turf in Cumbria and pow-powing with all-comers in Iraq and Afghanistan; familiar, because Stewart is a professional political communicator – as polished as he is personable.
Sadiq Khan is characterising the mayoral race as a two-horse one between himself and what he calls “Boris Johnson’s Tory candidate”. He might be right. But Rory Stewart cannot be counted out just yet.
Read the full article here: https://www.onlondon.co.uk/rory-stewart-campaign-energy-grip-and-the-london-of-700-villages/