Shaun Bailey will be mayor of London. Here’s why

The next mayor of London? Shaun Bailey, speaking at the 2018 Conservative Party conference. Image: Getty.

Shaun Bailey’s campaign for the London mayoralty has not, most commentators agree, got off to a flying start. Groups he seems to have alienated, either with past remarks journalists have dug out since his candidacy was announced or with brand spanking new comments made just this week, include Muslims, Hindus (in the latter instance getting special points for conflating following Hindu religious practice and speaking the Hindi language, offending two groups for the price of one), single mothers and anyone who knows any single mothers, people who use buses, everyone in Thamesmead, and, in a spectacular flourish, all women.

Even before this month, little about Bailey’s political career was encouraging; his path from contesting a winnable seat (Hammersmith) in 2010 to contesting an unwinnable seat (Lewisham West & Penge) in 2017, via failing to be selected for any of the winnable or safe he tried out for in 2015, does not suggest a political high flier. His policy positions are reliably traditionally Tory, deeply uninspiring or both. (The most notable thing about that 2010 election loss was another peculiar story, if not exactly gaffe, concerning Bailey’s Wikipedia page.) Bailey’s campaign looks like a lost cause, and as a one time champion of The Big Society, he should know a few things about lost causes.

Nevertheless, I have every confidence that Bailey, gaffe-prone though he may be – and despite the near certainty that several other groups will have joined the list above by the time you read this – will be elected mayor of London. The reason for this is simple: it’s exactly the kind of thing that happens nowadays. Political norms have been suspended. Things that obviously can’t happen, that go against all political wisdom can and do happen, and no one believes in them even as they happen.

A friend of mine recently claimed we were living in “the banter timeline”: a version of reality where things that obviously can’t happen because they’re ridiculous, that could only happen as a joke, are now routine. The word ‘banter’ has become justifiably toxic, referring to a particularly obnoxious kind of male behaviour, and it’s a good fit for where we find ourselves. Running ridiculous campaigns and systematically alienating huge chunks of the population, whittling them off your block of potential voters in stages, isn’t enough to stop you being elected president of the United States, so why on Earth should it stop you being elected mayor of London?

Indeed, it was another London election that kicked off the ‘banter timeline’: the elevation of a gaffe-prone Conservative candidate who was largely hidden from view by his own campaign during the election, so worried were they of anyone actually seeing or hearing him. (Whatever happened to him?)


There is a lot of this about. Recently Tory MPs who support the Prime Minister and her approach to Brexit were reported to be considering triggering a vote of no confidence in her – confident that she would win, because, under the party’s byzantine leadership election rules, anyone else would be barred from challenging her for a year. In other words, challenging here would secure her position.

Whether that would have worked in practice, of course, is a different question, and in the end the MPs thought better of it, presumably someone tipped them off about the nature of the reality in which they live.

If there’s one thing the last few years should have taught anyone and everyone, it’s that politics cannot any longer be gamed. Witness the almost endless hilarity that ensued from Zac Goldsmith’s vanity by-election loss to Sarah Olney in 2016 where, seemingly uninformed by David Cameron’s then very recent attempt to do the same thing, he forced an unnecessary election in order to get people to endorse a decision he’d already made, and found out that, in an actual democracy, that sort of thing doesn’t work as often as it does.

This isn’t a phenomenon confined to the right, of course. Some on the Labour Left have considered getting Jeremy Corbyn to fight a reselection ballot, just to make a point about the innate fairness of compulsory re-selection. Like a pre-emptive challenge on an unpopular Prime Minister, that strikes me as something that could easily have an outcome other than that its advocates expect. (And yes, I am acquainted with North London Labour Party members, as it happens.)

Many years ago a then flatmate of mine, a Labour voter and sometime member, admitted he had voted for a Liberal Democrat council candidate, who also happened to be our landlord, “for larks”. The joke was that said candidate, standing in a solidly Labour ward, didn’t want to be a councillor, and had just been pushed into being a paper candidate by his local party. He hadn’t even campaigned. His election would have annoyed him sufficiently that it would have been, briefly, hilarious.

These days, he’d end up Prime Minister. Assuming Shaun Bailey doesn’t get there first.

 
 
 
 

A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.