Monday, 25 April 2016

So who would win if the London mayoral candidates played Monopoly?

There are many ways a voter may decide how to judge the various London mayoral candidates. Some might think a candidate’s housing policy the key issue, for others maybe it’s transport. But what about whether they can play the ultimate London board game, Monopoly, or not.

Over the past couple of months my Metro colleague Sharon Lougher and I have interviewed the major candidates running for mayor. We’ve asked them about how they would tackle the housing crisis, what infrastructure London needs to cope with a growing population and what crime measures would be their focus. All agree housing is the key issue and many have found it difficult to separate it from transport, arguing that one can only be solved with work on the other.

But, while they might agree on the major issues, they disagree – particularly the leading candidates Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Khan – on their approaches to tackling the problems so voters are left with a genuine choice. 

To lighten the mood in an increasingly fraught contest, however, we also asked what their tactics are when playing Monopoly; which one would you trust to play the ultimate property board game and win?

Caroline Pidgeon
First up was Caroline Pidgeon. This crucial issue didn’t make the final edit in the paper, but her Monopoly tactics are to ‘buy the stations because they keep generating the revenue. Then I'd go for Mayfair’. Now, as a fellow transport enthusiast, I can only applaud the sentiment of wanting to secure the stations and I can understand the simple attraction of Mayfair. But, really, as a Monopoly tactic it is unlikely to prove a winner.

The full interview, where she talks about her transport plans, why Heathrow expansion should be stopped, how the Garden Bridge should be cancelled and Boris Johnson's legacy can be found here.

Sian Berry
Clearly, a fellow transport enthusiast, the Green Party candidate Sian Berry also said 'the stations!' when asked what she would target. You can read the full interview with Ms Berry here, where she talks about her plans to set up a renters' union across London to help private renters, getting rid of City Airport and the joys of Hampstead Heath.

Peter Whittle
Peter Whittle, the UKIP candidate, was at least honest about Monopoly admitting 'I've never completely understood the rules'.

'I used to make them up when I played my very impressionable sisters! For some reason I used to like the greens - Regent Street, Bond Street, Oxford Street. I thought they were attainable without being ostentatious.'

Bond Street is possibly a bit ostentatious these days and Regent Street, if not quite ostentatious, is certainly an advert for aspiration. But, regardless, it isn't a winning tactic for Monopoly. Peter Whittle's full interview, where he talks about tackling overcrowding in London, his love of the arts and meeting the Queen, is here.

Zac Goldsmith
Now, if there's one person who should know how to play Monopoly, it is Zac Goldsmith. He is, after all, almost wealthy enough to consider buying a space on a Monopoly board for real. Again, there wasn't enough space for the issue to make the final cut in the paper but he falls into the same trap as Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry.

'I would go for the train stations, to guard our precious transport infrastructure from Khan's £2bn blackhole.'

So, not a winning Monopoly strategy, but he's hoping with his overtly political answer to highlight again his major campaign theme that Sadiq Khan's plan to freeze transport fares for four years, if he becomes mayor, would blow a large hole in Transport for London's development budget. It's certainly a point of contention. Goldsmith talking of his love for Richmond Park, his plan to build houses and why Britain should leave the European Union can be found here.

Sadiq Khan
Sadiq Khan is another who really should have a grasp of how to play the game, being the son-of-a-bus driver, born and brought up in Tooting, as he's very keen to tell anyone that listens. And, it's pretty clear that he is practised at the game, as he replies:

'Buy early, and buy lots! Whether it's Old Kent Road or Park lane, buy, buy, buy.'

Finally, in the Monopoly stakes at least, a candidate has a potentially winning strategy. Whether he can win in London with his contested four-year freeze on fares and his affordable housing target of 50 per cent remains to be seen. For details on why he thinks those policies would work, and how he would like to step into a boxing ring with Barack Obama and that he definitely didn't woo his wife in McDonalds, see the full interview here.

Sophie Walker
But, an honourable mention also needs to be made for Sophie Walker, the leader and mayoral candidate for the Women's Equality party. Rather than engage in the competitive bluster of a Monopoly game, she pointed out what practical uses it can have. She said:

'I play with my daughter Grace, who has autism, and struggles with maths as well because she has dyscalculia. So when I play Monopoly my main strategy is to help her understand the value of the properties that she's buying and whether she can pay the mortgage.'

Here is someone with a sensible purpose for the game rather than one who wastes hours - albeit with sadistic glee - trying to bankrupt one's opponents. You can read more about the struggle for equal pay, trying to end violence against women and why Mary Wollstonecraft deserves a statue in London here.

Friday, 8 April 2016

The sins of one's father

One cannot atone for the sins of one's father. One cannot even atone for their accounting choices. I dare say that, gazing back through my family tree, among the many fine and upstanding people, several of the characters that feature would have done something of which I thoroughly disapprove. I imagine there was a racist, a bully, maybe a petty criminal and a blithering incompetent. There's little I can do about it. And I reckon I do things that will make my daughters in future roll their eyes in bewilderment.

I actually feel a bit sorry for David Cameron for this is the problem he now faces. He cannot undo the business decisions his father made and it must be very excruciatingly painful for him to see a figure he loved and so obviously admired to be hauled over the coals, especially as his financial arrangements were far from unusual and all tax owed - under the law - was paid. People claiming that Cameron has benefited from tax dodging are simply wrong. He hasn't.

Nothing illegal has occurred. That does not mean, however, that the prime minister hasn't made a series of terrible of mistakes that yet again leaves his judgement open to question. While the urge to defend the honour and privacy of one's father is a perfectly natural instinct, it is hard to imagine how it could have been handled more incompetently.

It is the end of yet another wretched week for the government and most of the problems are entirely self-inflicted. In his interview last night, yet again David Cameron said 'I don't have anything to hide', but it was the fifth statement on his financial affairs, having spent the week trying to dodge the question.

David Cameron was at pains to say Blairmore Investments wasn't set up to avoid tax. Yet, the 2006 prospectus for the scheme stated:

'The directors intend that the affairs of the fund should be managed and conducted so that it does not become resident in the UK for UK taxation purposes... the fund will not be subject to UK corporation tax or income tax on its profits'.

And it is noticeable that both the prime minister's £300,000 inheritance and £19,000 profit from Blairmore both happened to be just below thresholds above which tax would have been due.

Why also did Cameron sell his stake in January 2010? It surely cannot have been because he feared how it might appear if he were to win that year's general election, can it?

And while not strictly necessary under the rules, it is a noticeable omission from his Register of Interests after repeatedly asserting his transparency.

The claim that 'we are all in this together' also sounds particular hollow now and Cameron's criticism of others using offshore vehicles - such as Jimmy Carr - does appear at the very least foolish, if not hypocritical, now.

These are awkward questions which the prime minister may still face pressure to answer.

Oddly, though, they're almost irrelevant. The bigger issue is political competence. Lurching from self-inflicted wound to self-inflicted wound, the government currently gives the impression of being tired and out of ideas, much like John Major's administration after the disaster of Black Wednesday.

Consider the last few weeks. George Osborne's budget took three days to fall apart spectacularly. Jeremy Hunt is proving more unpopular at health than even Michael Gove at education and the junior doctors' dispute shows no sign of being over anytime soon.  Sajid Javid found himself on a jaunt in Australia when Tata was holding a crucial, and long expected, meeting on the future of the British steel industry. Even the EU pamphlet, while in many ways perfectly understandable, is a £9.3million invitation for a bit of internecine warfare.

One can only think that the most plausible explanation for this is the EU referendum. The government is chronically divided and is struggling to present an agreed voice on almost anything. We witness, on a ridiculously frequent basis, ministers within the same departments saying contradictory things - meaning that focusing and simply getting the basics right is very difficult to achieve.

The biggest danger for the government is that this image of incompetence might sway voters in the EU referendum. While it is fair to say neither side of the Brexit debate has covered itself with glory, no one wants to be on the same side as an incompetent and it always looks worse coming from a government. Voters might tick the box to leave the EU simply to give the government a bloody nose rather than because it's something they actually want to do.

Despite the ineptitude, however, any calls from Labour for Cameron to resign are way over the top and while the government does seem tired, it remains very hard to imagine a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn ready to step into the breach.

It is recoverable, of course. Cameron simply must shore up the team around him for currently he is receiving woeful advice. And if the Prime Minister wins the EU referendum - which still seems most likely - he will have the opportunity to shake up his cabinet, refresh it and try and push on; though it will be a struggle to keep all sides happy.

In the end, it does rather feel that the final days of the David Cameron era has arrived. If he loses the EU referendum he's a goner anyway, but if he wins he will at least have the opportunity to depart on his own terms.