1 May 2024

Sadiq Khan is holding London back


It is a familiar aspect of the democratic process that voting against someone is more of a spur to go to the polling station than voting for someone. ‘Throw the rascals out’ is the great rally cry. The Americans have long understood that negative campaigning, the use of ‘attack ads’, tends to have more impact than some high-minded extolling of the favoured candidate’s virtues. 

For those of us sceptical about placing too much faith in politicians, this is rather healthy. It acts as a check on the power of incumbents – as we can see, it has certainly made for a challenging situation for Rishi Sunak. 

Yet in other contexts, it is the Labour Party that could be vulnerable to discontent with the status quo. We see this coming into focus this week with Sadiq Khan seeking re-election as the Mayor of London. 

A victory for Khan by a huge margin should be a formality. Even in the Conservative landslide at the last general election in 2019 there was a big Labour majority among those voting in the capital. The demography is unforgiving. Property prices mean that those who wish to become homeowners have to move out of the city and to live and to cast their votes elsewhere. 

That trend has not changed. 

Now, of course, we see Labour ahead nationally – by over 20 points according to the opinion polls. That should mean an even greater margin in London. Yet I am sensing a mood for ‘split voting’ – or, at least, selective abstention. Those planning to vote Labour in a general election are reluctant to give their support to Khan. Disillusioned Conservatives who can’t see a reason to vote for their party nationally can see some very clear reasons to vote for a change of Mayor. 

Khan has been Mayor for eight years but has patently failed to deliver. The buck-passing that it is all the fault of central Government is increasingly tiresome. If all he can do is make excuses, what is the point of keeping him in office? The arrogance with which he dismisses criticisms also adds insult to injury.

Rising crime is the most serious indictment against him. Keeping the City safe is a basic duty. According to the Metropolitan Police’s own figures, there were 1,120,243 offences in London last year. That’s a 6.1% increase on the previous year. In 2015, before he took office, it was 743,728. So that’s an increase of more than half. 

This week, The Times reported

‘Knife crime increased by 20% in the capital last year compared with 2022, while increasing by only 7 per cent for the entirety of England and Wales. The capital accounted for 29% of all 49,489 knife-related offences in England and Wales last year’.

Those facts are beyond dispute. The reasons behind them can be debated. But a pretty big clue is Khan’s opposition to stop and search. When he became Mayor he declared he would ‘do all in my power to further cut its use’.

The Times report added: 

‘The use of stop and search powers by the Met has fallen by 44% over the past two years. The number of subsequent arrests by the Met has dropped by 28% over the same period. This contrasts with the rest of the country, where the use of stop and search and arrests from stop and searches have increased. Until last year the Met had consistently accounted for the most stop and searches of all police forces but it has been overtaken by Greater Manchester police, which performed 22% of stop and searches’.

In a Mayoral debate last week, Khan was challenged by his Conservative opponent, Susan Hall, over people ‘running around with machetes’ on the streets of London. Khan responded: ‘I think the Tory candidate should stop watching The Wire’. Quite astonishing. Days later we had a 14-year-old boy stabbed to death with a sword in Hainault. 

The Mayor does not have control of operational policing. But a message of complacency, denial and political correctness coming out of City Hall has an impact. As a result of the seemingly lax police response to pro-Palestine protesters, much of the Jewish community do not feel safe in the West End on Saturdays. 

Then we have the Mayor’s important responsibility for Transport for London. His epic mismanagement in this respect I have written about on this site previously. Tough decisions are dodged while the trade unions are placated. The Council Tax precept is pushed up to pay for the losses. For all his grievance-mongering, the bailouts from central Government have been generous. Yet still commuters are crammed in like cattle while the fares increase. 

Despite all the virtue signalling about the environment, traffic congestion has got worse since ULEZ was extended. Last year, London was the slowest city out of 387 globally to drive a six-mile journey, according to the TomTom traffic index. Idling vehicles belch out emissions. 

Then there is the housing shortage. Transport for London owns 6,156 acres. By comparison, Hammersmith and Fulham, the borough I live in, has a total area of 4,053 acres. State land banking by the Mayor of London makes the housing shortage much worse. 

His planning policies have failed to deliver. Susan Hall would seek to make new housing popular by making it beautiful – along the lines favoured by the social enterprise Create Streets. Traditional terraced streets and mansion squares would offer a better chance for community spirit than the hideous tower blocks backed by Khan. 

Despite all this, of course, Khan is still tipped by the bookies to survive. Perhaps he will. But if he does so, I predict it will be by a narrower margin than the polls suggest. He is a liability to his Party and is holding back our capital City. He deserves to lose.

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Harry Phibbs is a freelance journalist.

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