22 September 2023

Is Sadiq Khan planning to do a David Miliband and leave frontline politics?


For a man potentially running for an unprecedented third term Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, isn’t doing a great deal of politicking. Which makes me wonder, what’s he up to?

A recent poll showed the race for City Hall is much tighter than many imagined. Susan Hall – with the upmost respect to my London Assembly colleague – was a relative unknown outside the exciting world of London government until she became the Conservative candidate. The fact that she is within touching distance of such a big job is extraordinary and a testament to her campaign.   

How does the Mayor respond? A charm offensive? A new suite of policies? Release another book?

No, he jets off to New York to talk about climate change.

It strikes me that Sadiq Khan isn’t doing any of the things one does when running for re-election. His website is still branded ‘Sadiq 2021’. His timeline is empty of the usual baby kissing, hand shaking and constituency tours you’d expect in the run-up to an election. I’d imagine he’s limited to where he can visit. The zeal with which he pushed through his contentious expansion of the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) made him a pariah to many London Labour MPs whose constituents, despite what Khan says, rely on the very vehicles he is taxing £12.50 a day to drive. Indeed, many senior people in the Labour Party, including Sir Keir himself, pleaded with Khan to think again about a policy which they believe lost them the Uxbridge by-election. 

Did Khan listen to his London colleagues or Party Leader? Not a jot.

What about the actual day job of being London Mayor? Strangely it doesn’t seem to be one Khan enjoys. Ken Livingstone used to consider himself King of London – you could tell he was proud, passionate (think 7/7) and would probably still be doing the job if he could. Boris Johnson was always passing through – but while he was in the role, he encapsulated it. Be it the Olympics, Boris Bikes, dangling from a zipwire or holding a broom aloft on the streets of Clapham he was the ultimate salesman for London. Bouncing around with a joie de vivre that had crowds chanting his name. Khan just doesn’t seem interested. Both the Police and Fire Brigade are in special measures, TfL needs a radical overhaul and housing is nowhere near meeting the increased demand. These numerous failures Khan dismisses as the fault of central government or by occasionally firing a Commissioner. The interest in leadership, the grip, just isn’t there.

My feeling is he’s looking for a way out. Something respectable that gives him both a platform and an income. Once Sir Keir took hold of the Labour party, Khan would have realised that he won’t be leader any time soon and probably won’t even be offered a role in cabinet. I think he’s looking for something else to do. Something like David Miliband, the vanquished brother of Ed, who selflessly gave up his role as an MP to earn $450,000 a year as President and CEO of the International Rescue Committee. Something like that would retain his public profile, put a few quid in the bank and leave the door open for perhaps one last swing.  

How does one ‘Do a Miliband’? Well, here he is doing all the right things. He’s driven through an unpopular policy against the wishes of his colleagues. He’s taken the chairmanship of an influential committee – the C40 Cities – which provides an international platform. He’s released a book describing his newly discovered passion for the climate agenda and, just before the election really gets underway, he’s jetted off to the New York Climate Week to chat with Gates, Bloomberg and Carney. Just to see if he can help in any way.

This is, as I say, just a hunch. But I’m keeping a close eye on those Labour London MPs currently hanging around City Hall. 

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Peter Fortune AM is London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley.

Columns are the author's own opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of CapX.