Australian Times contributor and Conservative Party activist Chloe Westley sat down with mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith to discuss what he can offer Australians living in London and why he believes immigration from outside the EU would be prosperous for future of the city.
Chloe: We’ll start with the most important question first: do you prefer your beer at room temperature or chilled?
Zac: Room temperature.
Chloe: Room temperature?
Zac: Absolutely. But if the Australians promise to back me, I could go for chilled.
Chloe: In your Action Plan you’ve promised that as Mayor of London you will provide more homes for Londoners and better transport. How do we know that you’ll be able to deliver on these pledges?
Zac: The number one priority for me is housing. I think everyone acknowledges that Boris did a fantastic job over the years. It was an amazing success story. He really put London on the map. Everyone wants to move and invest here. But, as a consequence of that, people feel that they’ve been priced out of their own city. For example, if you are earning an average salary in London, you haven’t got any hope at all of being able to afford your own home. So that is a problem. And the only way to solve it is to double the amount of houses that are being built at the moment.
And you do it by releasing land. You need three things to build more houses, you need land and finances and you need planning. Now planning is a political issue which you can deal with if you’re a good politician. And there is no shortage of finance when it comes to investment into property in London. So the issue is land. And what we’ve got now which we didn’t have during Boris’s time is the information that we need to know where vast patches of publicly owned land actually are in London, and the job of the next mayor will be to release that land and make sure it gets built on. That’s what we need to do.
It is the same issue for transport. You’re not going to be able to access land and make it developable unless you grow the transport infrastructure. The two issues are hand in hand. You’ve got to deliver transport networks in order to build the homes we need.
Chloe: As mayor, how important do you think it is to work with the British Government to deliver on these pledges?
It’s a pre-requisite. You can’t get any of these things down without working with government, and that’s because London – I think this is a weakness, incidentally, but it’s a fact – is totally dependent on central government. We generate huge wealth in the capital, and we hand almost all of it to central government. So you then have to go to the government and beg for that money back. For police, housing or transport – whatever the consideration – the money comes from central government.
If you’re not able to stand up to the government, and even more importantly if you’re unable to get a good deal from government, then London will lose out. And that’s a message I will be taking out to voters over the next few months. I’ve got a record as an MP for making promises and keeping them. I did that through getting good deals from the government and that’s what I will do as Mayor.
Chloe: Will you be campaigning for Britain to leave the European Union?
At the moment, I want to wait and see what the PM does. I’m a Eurosceptic – I’ve always been a Eurosceptic – partly because I think that the European Union institutions are so undemocratic and they need to be improved. But in an ideal world, I would like the PM to return with a new set of reforms so that Eurosceptics like me are comfortable to vote to stay in. But the reforms have got to be meaningful, and as a courtesy to the PM I want to wait and see what he comes back with.
Chloe: Do you think he will be successful in negotiating greater sovereignty for Britain?
I’m going to be straight. I think the first draft of his reforms will probably not be enough for Eurosceptics. But I think what will happen is that, as the opinion of the British public shifts, he might find that he will have to go back for a second helping. And that might be enough. But we’ll see. I think it is possible for him to deliver enough reforms to convince most people.
Chloe: In 2014 your predecessor Boris Johnson urged David Cameron to accelerate negotiation of an unrestricted immigration agreement between Australia, New Zealand and Britain. Is this something that you would be in favour of?
Yeah, very much so. London benefits massively from its diversity. We are one of the most diverse cities on Earth, and we’re also one of the greatest. The two things go together – we are one of the greatest because we are one of the most diverse.
One of the things that I would like to see in the European Union reforms is that I would like us to be able to have control over our borders so that we can have a more outward looking immigration policy instead of having free movement, unrestricted within Europe, which then restricts people moving here from outside of the EU. I would prefer Britain to have a much more balanced approach and improve our relations with countries that we already have such deep relationships with – and yours is obviously one example.
Chloe: How do you feel about the new rules coming into effect on Tier 5 Visas, whereby after 5 years of living and working in the UK people can be sent home if they are not earning over £35,000?
Zac: Is that the visa you’re on?
Chloe: Yes. So in 2019, if I’m not earning £35,000, I may be sent home.
Zac: I worry about that. I understand where the government is coming from, but I worry about any rules that make London less welcoming. I think it’s really important that London remains open to business and talent from around the world.
Chloe: You’ve campaigned on environmental issues your entire political career. What will you do to tackle the problem of pollution in London?
Zac: There’s some good news and bad news. The good news is there is a huge appetite from the public to deal with air quality. The bad news is that it’s only there because air quality has become a serious problem. So, four years ago when Boris took his hustings, I don’t think anyone asked about the environment. Today, I’m about to do a series of hustings, and I don’t believe there will be a single one where air quality isn’t raised as an issue. And that’s because the problem has gotten worse.
All the tools that we need to deal with the problem are there. Most of them are technological. We need to phase out the most polluting cars and we need a clean car revolution. I’m going to be producing a whole programme on this in a few weeks’ time so I won’t go into that now, but it is possible we can facilitate a really rapid and radical shift towards clean cars and public transport as well.
We’ve also got an incredible amount of green spaces in London, but not everyone has access to them. We should invest in improving access to green spaces and protecting green spaces, as well as pocket parks. Boris has produced a hundred pocket parks in the last four years and that’s a programme I would like to see greatly accelerated. London can be and should be one of the greenest cities on Earth.
Chloe: Is this something you would once again work with the government on?
Absolutely right. On all of these issues you have to work with the government. Today we had an announcement from the Secretary of State for Transport about Transport for London linking up with the suburban railway franchises to try and bring them up with the standard of services that TFL provide, and that is something I have been lobbying in favour of for months as a mayoral candidate, and even longer as an MP. And it looks like that campaign is finally yielding a result.
Not being able to work with government is a deal breaker for any mayoral candidate. It’s as simple as that. And my opponent, I believe, does not have an appetite for working with anyone outside of his political party – and it’s not just because he is Labour. There are Labour MPs and Labour figures who are good at building bridges with other parties. I think I’m pretty good at building bridges with other parties. I’ve worked with the Liberal Democrats, the Greens, Labour – I’ll work with anyone to get the problem solved. It’s a peculiar and particular trait to the candidate that the Labour party have chosen. He will not work with anyone outside his political party and for me that rules him out as a serious contender.
Chloe: Do you think that what your opponent is promising to deliver for Londoners can only be achieved by working with the government?
I know that he can’t deliver on them. The promises he has made cannot be delivered without working with government. If you look at his record as politician over the last 10 years there is no record of him working with government. So he could promise almost anything, but whatever comes out in his manifesto will only be deliverable if he can work with the government.
Chloe: Final question. Which team were you barracking for in the Rugby World Cup Final match?
Zac: Australia. Obviously!