CROYDON COMMENTARY: A new era has begun for the capital. After an historic election, STEVEN DOWNES reports on the role of a Croydon property developer in Sadiq Khan’s campaign, and how that creates a challenge for the new Mayor of London
It was gone midnight when the candidates, all but one of them, finally emerged on the presentation stage at City Hall for the formal declaration of what had been pretty much established as inevitable seven hours earlier: Sadiq Khan is the new Mayor of London.The 2016 London Mayoral elections will be remembered as momentous, especially because of the relatively high turn-out of Londoners to vote, many in defiance of the dog-whistle, divisive campaigning by the Tories from which, when it was clear that it had failed, some leading members of the Nasty Party attempted to distance themselves.
Those attempts were too little, too late, and Goldsmith’s nasty ploy should never be forgotten.
Groups such as Operation Black Vote had condemned the Tory strategy six weeks ago. Some Tories, such as “Silent Steve” O’Connell and Croydon South MP Chris Philp, either repeated the line or condoned it with their silence. They carry heavy responsibility for the nasty racial abuse which was hurled at some election candidates, such as Labour’s Marina Ahmad, who like Khan is a child of immigrant parents, and who was standing for Labour in Croydon and Sutton.
With more than 1.3 million votes, Khan achieved the biggest personal mandate of any politician in British history.
For a world city to elect a Muslim as Mayor, and to do so so emphatically, is a pretty big statement, and a positive one, too, unlike the negative stance adopted on stage at City Hall by the Britain First numpty who turned his back as the new Mayor made his acceptance speech.
Paul Golding did, at least, have the good grace to attend the declaration, unlike George Galloway, whose unshakable belief in his own political brand ought to have been extinguished by a result which, with fewer than 40,000 votes from the capital’s 8 million population, demonstrates that no one cares what “Gorgeous George” has to say any more.Indeed, Galloway’s own brand of “Respect” was beaten by a woman standing for a party which did not exist this time last year. Surely that message should get through to him? Meanwhile, 79-year-old Lee Harris’s platform of “Cannabis is Safer Tan Alcohol” beat the BNP, which as one shrewd observer among the Twitterati observed, shows “London: love ganja, hate racism”.
The 2016 London Mayoral election is significant in other ways, too.
It is the first time that there’s been a Labour Mayor who really was the candidate which his party wanted: in 2004, the Bliar-led Labour leadership held its nose when Ken Livingstone won his second term, if only to avoid the embarrassment of 2000 when standing as an independent, Livingstone crushed the official Labour candidate Ken Dobson.
It is also the first time in the brief history of the office when London has a Mayor who is in outright opposition to the ruling party a mile or so down the Thames at Westminster. Of course, from 2008 to 2010, Boris Johnson was installed at City Hall, but this was at the time of global financial crisis, and as long as New Labour was spoon-feeding billions of tax-payers’ pounds to the failed bankers in The City, he was not going to rock the boat.
Now, though, the capital has a Mayor who can really act as a bulwark for London against Tory austerity, someone who has limited, but real powers to make up for the eight wasted years of Johnson’s misrule.Khan arrives with some political baggage and perhaps with some debts or favours to repay, and what he does in office will offer some clues about the direction of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn, and opposition politics.
With housing agreed by all, including Goldsmith and the Tories, as the No1 priority for the new Mayor, Khan will arrive for work on Monday morning knowing that he would not have won the Labour nomination was it not for donations from a Croydon-based property developer who has opposed the local council’s landlord licensing scheme. How Khan seeks to reconcile that conflict of interests will be instructive.
Khan has a well-deserved reputation for flip-flopping, as has been noted over his efforts to keep Corbyn at arm’s length from his campaign: Khan was one of the Labour MPs who provided the nominations to get his fellow Londoner into the leadership contest. Without Khan, Corbyn might not even have been among the candidates. Yet later, Khan was at pains to make it clear that he voted for someone else as leader.
That weather vane approach to his politics, rather than being a sign post, his being a populist rather than adhering to principle, has been noted by The Economist this week: “Most concerning is the new mayor’s inclination—shared by his predecessor, Boris Johnson—to say whatever he thinks his audience wants to hear. This quest to please is related to his habit of flip-flopping on contentious issues, like Heathrow Airport expansion.”
So the role of Assembly Members, even the Labour majority of AMs, to hold the Mayor to account, will be important over the next four years.
James Bloodworth, the editor of the political blog Left Foot Forward, has written today: “Sadiq Khan’s victory goes to show that leftish policies are not necessarily irreconcilable with electoral success – so long as Labour fields the right candidate and drops the parochial stuff…
“Those in the Labour Party not happy with the current direction of travel under Jeremy Corbyn must at some point win over the bourgeoning left-leaning membership of the party. Harking back to the halcyon days of New Labour is unlikely to help. Indeed, the worst thing party moderates could do when Corbyn does finally depart is to place yet another empty suit in front of the membership and clap their hands.
“Tepid platitudes about ‘aspiration’ failed to win over Labour activists last year and there’s no sign that they will work any time soon. Were Corbyn to be unseated tomorrow, the membership would almost certainly elect him again – or someone just like him. This newly radical membership must therefore find reassurance that electoral success need not be synonymous with hiding in euphemisms and selling out your principles.”
Can Khan abandon “tepid platitudes”? Will he really avoid “selling out his principles”?It might be too much to hope for after a campaign which depended so much on Khan repeatedly stating that he is the son of a bus driver. The early signs, even before he was sworn in at Southwark Cathedral this morning, are not good.
After he was selected as Labour’s Mayoral candidate last September, Khan was casting around for advisers and policy-makers for his campaign team. He approached one high-profile Labour figure who had been publicising radical, alternative propositions on transport and environmental issues in the capital which might have helped to buttress against Goldsmith’s ecological credentials.
After more than a month of failed efforts to find suitable dates in diaries, Khan’s office rang and made an appointment with the potential campaign helper. Booted and suited, they duly arrived at the appointed time. “Sorry, Sadiq’s out and he can’t make it today,” they were told.
The biggest responsibility in the Mayor of London’s portfolio is transport, and today it has been seeping out that Khan is considering appointing to that brief Lord Andrew Adonis. A former head of Tony Bliar’s policy unit, Adonis is noted to be “an infrastructure expert”, which is short-hand for the man who came up with the Academy system for our schools and helped to lumber so many local authorities – including Croydon Council and Transport for London – with massive debts through PFI schemes.
It is hard to imagine a clearer attempt at “harking back to the halcyon days of New Labour” that such an appointment would represent. It is hardly the radical proposition for the capital which many Corbynistas in London might hope for.
And the direction Khan takes over housing policy will also tell us much. Will he support landlord licensing schemes, such as the one in Labour-run Croydon, over the complaints of property developers such as Dr Anwar Ansari, the businessman who funded his nomination campaign?Khan, the south London “council estate boy”, has a fight on his hands if he is to defend London’s social housing stock against the avaricious privatisers in the Conservative Party, among his own campaign donors, and also in his own political party. The social cleansing that has been going on on the Heygate and the Aylesbury estates in Southwark and with Cressingham Gardens in Lambeth have been conducted by Labour-run councils, in the latter case a process begun under Steve Reed OBE, now the MP for Croydon North.
The difference between what is happening there and what the rejected Goldsmith and the Tories have proposed as their “estate regeneration” policy is fag-paper thin.
In Croydon, the council’s planning chair has already backed down from insisting that half of the 1,000 flats – “luxury apartments” – to be built over the Hammersfield supermall should be “affordable” (which is itself a highly misleading abuse of the word). The council’s own home-building programme, meanwhile, has been outsourced to a private, unaccountable company and is proceeding, but slowly.
Dawn Foster, in The Grauniad, wrote today, “To solve the housing crisis in London, Khan will have to tackle the problem of rents but also defend and develop social housing, without which, London’s social mix is threatened with extinction. A city cannot exist purely for the very wealthy: transport, health and basic infrastructure are staffed by people on low- to middle-incomes and will collapse if workers can’t live in the city in which they are employed.”
People, in fact, just like Sadiq Khan’s bus-driver father, who lived in a council flat in Earlsfield.
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