OPINION - London deserves a truly serious rival to Sadiq and it should be Sajid Javid

 (Natasha Pszenicki)
(Natasha Pszenicki)

In 16 months, London will vote for its next Mayor. Sadiq Khan confirmed he will be running as the Labour candidate days before Christmas and unless the Tories raise a high-profile candidate in the coming months, Khan will easily win an unprecedented third term in power.

To date there has been silence from the Tory caucus in City Hall and campaign HQ. Rishi Sunak has been somewhat distracted but the risks for the Tories of not finding a contender worthy of challenging Khan are high. Firstly, it does this city a great disservice to not push our current Mayor — a tough, experienced political operator — to deliver a visionary plan for London that extends well beyond his admirable environmental focus. Secondly, a defeat at the polls in our capital where the Conservatives are increasingly conceding any power could mean a Tory wipeout here for generations. This is not good for democracy. And it certainly won’t help Sunak win the next election.

Khan also has a less than perfect record. We have a right to feel outraged that both the Met and the London Fire Brigade are under special measures. The Tories can tap into fears over rising crime and poor housing, council taxes going up and TfL reliant on begging the Government for handouts after Covid. Our Prime Minister has already criticised Khan’s plans to extend Ulez next August.

This election will also use a first-past-the-post voting system and new voter ID rules, the effect of which is unknown. Khan’s surprisingly narrow victory over Tory Shaun Bailey in the delayed 2021 election shows there are many not happy with his tenure, given Bailey’s lacklustre campaign (not helped by the party HQ projecting a defeatist approach to their candidate).

We had a strong, frank relationship when I was editor of this newspaper and there is much to admire in Khan. But I want to propose the candidate I believe will be a true competitor and one of a calibre this city deserves. In my opinion, one such contender is Sajid Javid, who has served as an MP for 12 years, been in government for nine, including as Secretary of State across six departments, with roles as Chancellor, Home Secretary and Health Secretary.

Lancashire-born, state-educated, with Pakistani parents, the 53-year-old, who has been largely based in London for two decades, shocked many when he announced he was stepping down as MP for Bromsgrove at the next election.

His wife and four children are no doubt delighted they can finally wave goodbye to the public scrutiny that is Westminster. My suspicion, however, is that Javid is a public servant to his core. His experience is a loss to the Tories and to public service. No 10 and Javid have declined to comment to me but he has the gravitas, public profile, and extensive political experience to take on Khan and Labour. And I would hope he would see the role as a truly defining next step in his life.

Yes, Javid lacks the performative chutzpah of Boris Johnson, but so does Khan, and Javid has much else to offer. Political vision only thrives with the requisite skill and knowledge to implement it. His experience as Home Secretary means he can knowledgeably challenge the new Met Commissioner.

His roles in government will equip him to lobby for London in the corridors of power (even if it is a Labour government) as well as encourage much needed investors to our city. As a former managing director at Deutsche Bank and Chancellor he is well versed in our strengths as a global financial centre, at a time when we are under increased competition from Paris and Amsterdam. An ex-president of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Business and Innovation, he can fight sure-footedly for commerce, and being northern-born, confidently link up with other mayors to ensure London uses its global heft to lift all our great cities together.

He was Secretary of State for Housing and Local Government — strong credentials for tackling London’s complex housing problems and for convening its 32 council leaders to radically reform planning and solve transport issues. Then there was his role as Secretary of State in the Department for Culture, Media, and Sport — highly valuable when guiding (and boosting) one of the great cultural centres in the world. Do I need to go on?

Khan won’t be able to attack him on class or education, and Javid will confidently speak to this city of proud immigrant communities. So, Mr Javid, can I persuade you to the cause? London is calling for a proper mayoral battle.

Is Keir in control?

Take Back Control, the undeniably effective rallying cry of the Brexiteers, has been appropriated by Keir Starmer, but this time with little effect.

The carefully explained sentiment behind his decision makes sense when you read the details but for the voting masses, the leading takeaway will be a Labour leader stealing another political party’s slogan, in place of one of their own.

And reducing all those Brexit promises to ever more devolution, with the added suspicion this is because they haven’t got anything more visionary to say.

Who can bring William and Harry together?

I have two sons and I hope they never fight as badly as the two warring royals, with Harry revealing Prince William knocked him to the ground in one fight over his wife Meghan.

It would truly devastate me as a mother to see such a painful falling out.

Over Christmas I saw a close old friend of their mother, Diana, who lamented on how this would have been the very last outcome she would have wanted. And that if she were alive, the brothers, who they admitted had long fought together, would have been able to fix their rows, such was the influence she held over them.

If there is no other way that these brothers can heal themselves, perhaps a close confidant of hers, who they both trust, can please step in and remind them of Diana’s still constant presence and what she would have advised? Help them forgive, learn to live alongside each other again to honour her memory. And support each other as a family, held together by the tragedy of that Paris tunnel, not torn apart by it. Because this has gone way too far.