London Mayoral Election Special Part 1: The Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting since 2005, promises to stand up for London over airport expansion and freeze transport fares in his bid to become Mayor of London
Words Ben Riley-Smith
He is the Left-leaning son of a bus driver who grew up on a council estate and nominated Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leader – but Sadiq Khan is making a direct pitch to Conservative voters to pick him as the next Mayor of London over Tory Zac Goldsmith.
In an attempt to reach for the centre ground, Khan promises to stand up for London over airport expansion and oppose attempts to impose a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ on the banks. He takes aim at Goldsmith’s lack of experience in business and politics, refusing to apologise for an attack advert that dubbed the son of billionaire Sir James Goldsmith a ‘serial underachiever’.
Khan also promises to be no Corbyn ‘patsy’ if he wins office, dubbing the Labour leader’s stance on Trident ‘wrong’ and warning that questioning the police’s right to shoot to kill terrorists could have ‘huge’ negative consequences.
The job of the Mayor of London is not to be a patsy for George Osborne, David Cameron or Jeremy Corbyn, but to be London’s advocate
It indicates that Khan is ready to follow in Boris Johnson’s footsteps by being a thorn in the side of his party leadership if he reaches City Hall on 5 May. He is currently the bookmakers’ favourite after pulling ahead in the polls with populist policy announcements like a freeze on London Underground ticket prices and a fair housing policy for Londoners.
‘We pay the most expensive Tube fares in Europe so I’m going to address the concerns London users have by freezing fares over four years,’ he says. Khan believes he can do this by cutting down the amount spent by TFL on consultants and agency staff as well as targeting fare evasion.
On providing affordable homes for Londoners (the key policy for both candidates) he is equally gung-ho: ‘Our London plan will give first dibs to London buyers before properties are marketed overseas.’ He also wants to use GLA and TFL land to build new homes for Londoners. ‘These bodies own land equivalent to 16 times the size of Hyde Park so why not use that land to build the homes Londoners need?’
The race to City Hall has national significance too, with Corbyn facing his first major electoral test in May and the Tories looking to win a third successive mayoral election in a traditionally Labour city. Chatting in a room in Parliament with sweeping views over the capital, his definition of a successful mayor, he says, is one who can put aside party affiliations and speak for the city as a whole.
I am trying to persuade voters to look at me, to look at my experiences, to look at my vision for London. When you meet and study the best mayors from around the world they are not tribal. What they try and do is to reach across the entire city
‘I am trying to persuade voters to look at me, to look at my experiences, to look at my vision for London and what I would do for London,’ he says. ‘When you meet and study the best mayors from around the world they are not tribal. What they try and do is to reach across the entire city.’
To do that, Khan says he is ready to take on his party leader to defend London. ‘There will be occasions when frankly speaking I disagree with Jeremy,’ he says, naming support for a new runway at Gatwick, a belief that businesses can drive job growth and prosperity and ‘unequivocal’ backing of a reformed European Union as key points of difference.
He also pledges to work with the Tory government to defeat Corbyn’s push for a ‘Robin Hood Tax’ – a fee on buying stocks, shares and derivatives publicly backed by the Labour leader. ‘The job of the Mayor of London is not to be a patsy or a spokesperson for George Osborne and David Cameron – as Mr Goldsmith is being – or Jeremy Corbyn or the party, but to be London’s advocate to their party and the government,’ he states.
The differences between Khan and Corbyn are clearest on defence. On Trident, he is categorical: ‘I’m quite clear that I can’t foresee any circumstances in which I would vote to unilaterally end our nuclear capability. At a time when Russia’s expanded into Ukraine, you’ve got North Korea testing missiles, I think the idea of getting rid of Trident unilaterally would be the wrong one.’
Similarly, Khan stresses the importance of letting police shoot to kill terrorists if they launch an attack in Britain. ‘These are split-second decisions,’ he says. ‘If they are questioning in that microsecond whether they could get in trouble that could lead to adverse consequences.’
The race for London Mayor has been characterised by some as a battle of backgrounds: Khan, the son of immigrants raised on a council estate, versus Goldsmith, the Eton-educated child of a billionaire financier
The race for London Mayor has been characterised by some as a battle of backgrounds: Khan, the son of immigrants raised on a council estate, versus Goldsmith, the Eton-educated child of a billionaire financier. Khan insists he will not criticise Goldsmith’s upbringing, saying ‘none of us are responsible for who our parents are’, but defends an attack on Goldsmith where he branded his opponent a ‘serial underachiever’.
‘I won’t apologise for comparing Zac Goldsmith’s adult experiences [to mine] in relation to business – or lack thereof – and in relation to politics,’ he says.
There has been some criticism of Khan’s stilted TV interviews, but in person he speaks fluently with charisma. His most emotive comments come over fears his two teenage daughters could be groomed online, demanding the government acts more swiftly to shut down IP addresses being used for promoting extremism.
‘If, God forbid, I was under any suspicion that they were being groomed sexually, a parent would have no hesitation in reporting to the authorities and taking away their computer. Why aren’t we treating radicalisation in the same way? This is really important.’ Khan also has a novel approach to help tackle radicalisation: promoting British Muslim ‘role models’ such as One Direction’s Zayn Malik and The Great British Bake Off’s Nadiya Hussain to inspire children.
Like Zac Goldsmith, Sadiq Kahn is keen to make it clear that if he wins, he will be his own man in City Hall: ‘I’ve got my own mandate for the job,’ he concludes.
The Mayor of London and London Assembly Member elections take place on 5 May 2016. For the full list of candidates and further information see londonelects.org.uk