Zac Goldsmith just compared himself to Leicester City FC and the internet isn't having any of it

"Okay, Zac, just try to look natural, like you cross roads all the time." Image: Getty.

Last night, as you’ll probably know by now, Leicester City FC became champions of the Premier League.

It is, by all accounts, the most remarkable story to come out of the world of football in years. Just seven years ago, Leicester were in the third division of the English football system (which, for reasons not entirely clear to CityMetric, is called League One). Now they’re the best team in the country – and without the help of a helpful oligarch willing to blow millions on new players.

Anyway, Zac Goldsmith – the Tory candidate for mayor of London, who polls show trailing his Labour rival Sadiq Khan by as much as 20 points – decided he fancied a bit of this underdog glory.


Presenter Nick Ferrari was a bit cynical about this.


But not half as cynical as the internet.


Some questioned whether someone of Goldsmith’s background could ever really be counted an underdog.


Others pointed out that he’d totally misunderstood what actually happened to Leicester this season.


Which implies he doesn’t know any more about football than he does about, say, the Central line.


Or Bollywood.


Though that interview did, at least, inspire this joke


Others pointed out that “doing a Leicester City” could mean more than one thing.


We’re supposed to write about cities round here, so:

At the time of the 2011 census, the area covered by Leicester City council had a population of around 330,000, while that of the wider urban area had 509,000. It’s the 13th biggest agglomeration in Britain, and something like the 942nd largest in the world.

It’s also one of the most diverse cities in Britain, and at the time of that census, less than 51 per cent of its population was classified as white.

So, now you know.

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Meet the YIMBY campaigners hoping to ease the housing crisis

Some houses, being built. Image: Getty.

The nimby is a wearily familiar political breed. Though individuals may support new housing and infrastructure projects in theory, they oppose them in practice (“not in my backyard”). For fear of consequences such as a fall in property values, locals reliably revolt against proposed developments – and politicians retreat. The net result is that cities and countries are denied the housing they need. For the past decade, the UK has fallen far short of the 250,000 new homes required annually to meet demand.

But the nimby has now met its dialectical opposite: the yimby. In contrast to their opponents, yimbys not merely tolerate but welcome development (“yes in my backyard”). The earliest known usage of yimby was in a 1988 New York Times article (“Coping in the Age of Nimby”) and the first organisation was founded in 2007 (Yimby Stockholm). Sister groups have since been established in Toronto, San Francisco, Sao Paulo, Sydney, Helsinki and, most recently, London.

John Myers, a 44-year-old former barrister and financial analyst, co-founded London Yimby with four others last year. They were inspired by the capital’s dysfunctional property market (London is the most expensive major global city for buying or renting) and the success of groups elsewhere.

“We saw what was happening in the States,” Myers said when we spoke. “The San Francisco group has just had three new laws passed in California to get more housing built. There are now more than 30 US cities with yimby groups… There really is a feeling in the air that something has to be done.” Myers lives in a small mortgaged house in Camden, north London, but most of the group’s volunteers are private or social housing tenants and range from “the very young to retired grandparents”.

“The big problem with the housing crisis,” Myers told me, “the dirty little secret that politicians don’t like to talk about is that, actually, people quite like house prices to go up.”

In 2013, shortly after launching the Help to Buy scheme, the former chancellor George Osborne told the cabinet: “Hopefully we will get a little housing boom and everyone will be happy as property values go up” (the average London house now costs £484,362). Though the exorbitant price of housing (such that there are now more outright owners than mortgagors) has become an electoral problem for the Tories, homeowners remain an obstacle to development.

In a recent report for the Adam Smith Institute (“Yes In My Back Yard”), Myers made three proposals to win over this bloc: allowing individual streets to grant themselves planning permission to extend or replace buildings; permitting local parishes to develop “ugly or low amenity” sections of the green belt; and devolving planning powers to city-region mayors.

“There are ways to get support from local people for high-quality developments but we have a system right now that doesn’t try and get that support,” Myers said. “It just imposes measures from the top down.”

In some US cities, yimbys have antagonised anti-gentrification campaigners by supporting luxury developments. There is a tension between the aim of greater supply and that of greater affordability. Myers argued that it was crucial to have “clear rules on what percentage [of affordable housing] is required up front, so it gets priced into the land and taken out of the landowner’s pocket”.

The replacement of stamp duty with a land value tax, he added, would leave both “the buyer and the seller better off: the buyer doesn’t have to scrape a deposit together and the seller doesn’t have the price reduced by the amount of stamp duty”.

That some Conservatives are now prepared to consider previously heretical measures such as building on the green belt and borrowing £50bn for housing investment may herald a new era. The yimby bulldozer is beginning to dislodge the nimbys from their privileged perch. 

This article previously appeared in our sister title, the New Statesman.

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