Khan must move away from showbiz, slogan, feel-good politics and focus on running the city

Ayesha Hazarika
·3-min read
 (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)
(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

The race for City Hall concludes this week. A bit like the finale of Line of Duty, it has gone on too long and is rather underwhelming. But there won’t be any surprises. Count Binface would have been a more plausible H but that’s another story... Sadiq Khan is set for a comfortable win. I remember the night he won five years ago. There was a real buzz. It had been a tough and nasty contest against Zac Goldsmith, with negative campaigning around Khan’s Muslim background and when Khan made his acceptance speech, the Britain First candidate turned his back to him in an apparently racist display.

It was a powerful, proud moment to see Londoners elect a Muslim leader and reject that kind of divisive politics. Khan became a positive emblem for multiculturalism, modernity and global Britain. But we’ve just had a pandemic. What should he do next?

I want to see him move away from his comfort zone of showbiz, slogan, feel-good politics and focus on the boring but necessary nuts and bolts of city politics —safe, clean streets, transport, good homes and jobs. As much as I loved the 2012 Olympics, I’m not sure bringing it back is the priority for your average Londoner. A poll by the Evening Standard found crime is a top concern for Londoners. Most people understand that there are complex and deep-rooted causes for knife-crime but they want to see their Mayor show relentless leadership and take a personal interest in this. Mothers in particular are worried about their teenage boys and women are nervous following a number of high-profile murder cases. There is also a crippling lack of trust in the police from younger women and minority communities.

Affordable housing remains a huge frustration and as the city returns to some kind of normal, rents which fell due to the pandemic are about to shoot up again pricing out young people and key workers who have already paid a heavy price. Khan has done a good job on cleaning up our city’s air but there are tensions over noble initiatives such as Low Traffic Neighbourhoods, which although are not his direct responsibility are having unintended consequences and snarling up main artery roads. Bringing people together to discuss how to make these work better for local people would be welcome. Even though Khan will be crowned without much contest, some of his opponents — especially Sian Berry of the Greens and Mandu Reid of the Women’s Equality Party — have run good, interesting campaigns. Wisdom doesn’t reside in any one party. Reaching out and looking at some of their policy offers would be refreshing and generous. One idea would be to make London a Sanctuary City where migrant women with no access to public support could get help if they were domestically abused or sexually exploited. It would chime with Khan’s values and make London a true pioneer in tackling violence against women when the Westminster Government has just rejected this idea. Khan must also fully realise and harness the centrality of his Mayoralty. We get that Boris Johnson doesn’t love him and will make life difficult, but he must make the case for London from a position of strength. After all, he’s one of the most powerful men in the land and one of the few Labour leaders who can win elections. Khan mustn’t be a victim of the Prime Minister, he must use Thursday’s victory to stand up to him and do right by this great city and its people.