The announcement today of Sadiq Khan’s top team, suggests he is unlikely to repeat the same mistakes made by his predecessor Boris Johnson when he first became mayor.
When Johnson first entered City Hall, many of his more senior appointments were foisted on him by those around David Cameron, who were nervous about Boris making a mess of his early days in the job.
This backfired however. In a rush to make sure Boris didn’t embarrass the leadership, a transition team led by close Cameron ally Nick Boles were imposed on him to help hire his senior staffers. Boris was quickly surrounded by a top team of business people and advisors, some of whom he neither knew, nor fully trusted. As a result, six of his most senior appointments in 2008 either resigned, or were forced out in disgrace, within the first year to sixteen months of his mayoralty. As resignation followed resignation, many started to wonder whether the wheels had completely come off his administration. It was only when Johnson finally started to make his own appointments, that things started to turn around.
Sadiq Khan has not made the same mistake. All of his top team, announced today, are either closely trusted long-running senior aides, or loyal political allies. The mayor’s office is made upof senior members of his campaign team. His successful campaign manger David Bellamy has been made chief of staff alongside four ‘mayoral directors’ Nick Bowes, Patrick Hennessy, Leah Kreitman and Jack Stenner. Stenner is a former special advisor to Khan and came up with many of the key campaign messages and ideas for his mayoral bid including the canny decision to hold Khan’s signing in ceremony at Southwark cathedral. Bowes and Kreitman were also senior members of Khan’s campaign team and will become mayoral directors of policy and external and international affairs respectively. Hennessy is a widely respected former lobby journalist and chief spin doctor for Khan and will become his new mayoral director of communications.
Khan has also appointed a series of deputy mayors. His statutory deputy is respected London Assembly member Joanne McCartney, who was previously policing spokesperson for the party on the assembly. The much-liked former assembly member Val Shawcross will be the new deputy mayor for transport. Rumours that this job would go to Lord Adonis had caused a fair amount of consternation and condemnation from some environmental campaigners, due to his support for aviation and road expansion. However, Khan today announced that Adonis will instead chair the Crossrail 2 rail project.
The deputy leader of Hackney Council, Sophie Linden, will become his policing deputy, while the politically important job of housing deputy will go to Islington councillor James Murray. London Assembly Member Fiona Twycross will chair London’s fire authority. Twycross was a vocal opponent of Johnson’s fire station closures and removal of fire engines so it will be interesting to see how she reacts to calls to re-open and restock those stations.
Most of these appointments have been unofficially in place from the start, but were held back by Khan’s team so they could all be announced at the same time. More junior roles overseeing culture, planning and communities will be announced in the coming days.
The appointments mark the end of a remarkably smooth beginning for London’s new mayor. His announcements on cheaper bus travel and the start of the Night Tube appear to have gone down well. Not everything he’s done has been warmly received of course. His continued support for the garden bridge has annoyed some, but it is no real change from his position during the campaign - Khan had suggested he was against the project last year, but changed his mind after a new funding agreement was reached. Reports that Khan had cancelled a 'cycle superhighway’ project planned by the previous mayor did cause some outrage among cycling activists, yet even this has fizzled out after Khan denied that any decision had yet been made. More serious for Khan are suggestions that he has has “backtracked” on his target for 50% affordable homes. In reality, Khan was clear throughout the campaign, including in interviews with Politics.co.uk, that this target was unlikely to be met at the start of his mayoralty. Khan’s success or failure on this measure should take years to become clear.
In fact, after a couple of weeks in the job, Khan has yet to cause any major controversies, save for a high-publicity row with Donald Trump and one minor temper tantrum by a Ukip assembly member about Khan flying the EU flag outside City Hall.
This is all the easy part however. On Wednesday Khan will appear for the first time in the City Hall chamber for mayor’s question time. These sessions can run for up to two and a half hours and can be utterly gruelling. This afternoon his team will be prepping him for what could be lengthy questioning on how he plans to fulfil his big promises on everything from housing to the funding of London’s creaking transport infrastructure. Tomorrow we’ll get the first proper sense of how well prepared he is for that job.