WHEN SADIQ KHAN BEAT TESSA JOWELL to be Labour’s candidate for Mayor of London back in September, those who didn’t know much about the political career of the son of a bus driver from Wandsworth could have been forgiven for thinking that Khan – who had, after all, nominated Jeremy Corbyn for leader – was the mayoral candidate the left had been waiting for.
His manifesto duly pledged to ‘tackle the housing crisis’, build ‘a minimum of 80,000 new homes a year’, set a target of 50% of new homes being genuinely affordable (i.e. not Boris Johnson’s definition of affordable, which sits at 80% of market rate), and introduce a London’s Living Rent for private renters.
He also promised to freeze London’s transport fares for four years. ‘Londoners won’t pay a penny more for their travel in 2020 than they do today,’ he committed. To most Labour members and supporters across London, all looked good – and, far rosier than the previous eight years. But, once Khan had secured the nomination for Labour’s candidate, cracks began to appear in his leftist credentials.
Granted, Sadiq was able to recruit a vast dedicated and effective team of volunteers to bolster his election campaign. But, once the nomination was won, Tessa was (thankfully) swept aside and Jeremy had been elected leader, Khan issued at least two press releases where he insisted he would not be the new Labour leader’s ‘patsy’. Before he secured the nomination, Sadiq seemed more than willing to ride the wave of Jeremy’s popularity – and court the huge number of new members this brought to the Labour Party – in order to secure the nomination.
As soon as this had served Khan’s purposes, he then moved to distance himself from the Labour leader and, slowly, a picture of a slightly less-principled-than-thought mayoral candidate emerged. Concurrently, Sadiq demanded that the Labour Group on the London Assembly abstain on the vote about whether or not to pass Boris Johnson’s final budget as Mayor after weeks of the team at City Hall preparing alternative costed policies – i.e., he forced Labour politicians to abstain on a vote about a Tory budget and, again, he showed signs of being far less principled than he appeared to be.
Since his election win, this has only become more apparent, as his flagship promises begin to be diluted. Now, instead of Londoners not having to ‘pay a penny more’ for their travel between now and 2020, the fare freeze on London’s transport network will only relate to TfL-controlled services. So, anyone commuting in from areas using other Train Operating Companies, such as Southern or Southeastern, (an estimated 450,000 people) now won’t be protected from fare rises.
And, instead of following through on his promise to build a minimum of 80,000 affordable homes a year, his ambition has been tempered to focus on the ‘right sorts of homes’ rather than on ‘total number of units built’. Meanwhile, London’s population continues to grow while rents and house prices increase exponentially and Sadiq meanwhile signed off the final £20m to complete the building of the ultimate vanity project, Garden Bridge. Then, just in case we’d forgotten, Sadiq issued another press release on 13 June reassuring us all once again that he is no ‘patsy’ of the Labour Party.
At the same time, he seemed comfortable campaigning alongside David Cameron on the EU referendum, allowing the Prime Minister to cynically ride the wave of the new Mayor’s popularity and boast how ‘proud’ he was to campaign alongside a ‘proud Muslim, a proud Brit and a proud Londoner’.
Instead of being a patsy of the Labour Party, Khan became (probably inadvertently) a patsy of David Cameron for a day instead. Granted, some of this flip-flopping is likely down to naivety rather than malice. But only a month into his mayoralty, Sadiq needs to be principled and stick with the policies and people, such as Jeremy and his supporters, who got him elected in the first place. Otherwise, he will be remembered as a one-term Mayor whose legacy included a long list of undelivered promises and the final sign-off to the Garden Bridge