Next week, Londoners will go to the polls to choose their next Mayor. Whoever wins will have the biggest personal mandate of any politician in the UK and, as the current occupant of Number 10 has proven, the role can be a stepping stone to the biggest job in politics.
Yet, despite their high profile, the London Mayor is relatively powerless when compared to the mayors of New York and Paris. But after a year of Whitehall-mandated Covid restrictions, it seems that Londoners want this to change.
More than eight in 10 people Centre for Cities polled in the capital want the next Mayor to take more responsibility for issues that affect us, with about half wanting them to have a bigger role in delivering more affordable homes and supporting businesses that have been hit hard by the pandemic. Londoners aren’t atypical in their view. Across England — from Labour strongholds like Liverpool and Greater Manchester, to the Conservative-run West Midlands and Tees Valley — people are standing up to say they want the Government to take a backseat.
Unfortunately, despite being led by a former London Mayor, it doesn’t look like the Government shares the public’s desire for change. Ministers’ attitudes towards decentralisation have chilled since the pandemic began and a long-awaited white paper on English devolution has been kicked into the long grass.
The Government’s high-profile run ins with Sadiq Khan and Andy Burnham haven’t helped matters and, with a solid Conservative parliamentary majority, a few mayors have emerged as some of the most vocal Government critics.
But constant acrimony between Whitehall and City Hall is in nobody’s interest — least of all Londoners’ whose city has suffered as a result of Covid-19. Half a million people in the capital have lost their job since the start of the pandemic and Zone 1 has turned into a ghost town. The next Mayor has a big job ahead of them and must work with the Government to get London back on track.
In turn, the Government should listen to the overwhelming majority of Londoners who want to see more decisions about the capital’s future taken here in London and trust whoever wins next week with the powers they need to help the capital build back better.
Andrew Carter is chief executive of Centre for Cities