Magazine article The Spectator

Sadiq Khan Is a Lousy London Mayor

Magazine article The Spectator

Sadiq Khan Is a Lousy London Mayor

Article excerpt

Sadiq Khan is a lousy London Mayor. Why hasn't anyone noticed?

According to people at City Hall, Sadiq Khan writes some of his own press releases. I can believe it: they've certainly become a lot more excitable since he took over. I like to imagine the Mayor of London, late at night, combing the thesaurus for fresh superlatives to bugle his 'unprecedented programme of far-reaching improvements' for the taxi trade (allowing black cabs in more bus lanes) or his 'bold package of measures' to revive street markets (creating a London Markets Board and an interactive map). One release even panted that Khan had 'personally scrutinised' the New Year's Eve fireworks display 'to make the acclaimed event the most exciting yet'.

Language like this -- the bold mayor, the German Democratic Republic, the powerful Commons paperclips committee -- is normally taken to mean the exact opposite of what its user intends. Yet even though we are nearly halfway through Khan's term, most people still accept him at face value. Few seem to have noticed that, outside the realm of the press release and the TV interview, he is underachieving badly.

I worked for Khan's predecessor, Boris Johnson, so perhaps I'm biased. But the figures aren't biased. Before the election, Khan promised that his housing policy would 'rival the NHS with its transformative effect on society'. He said he would 'support housing associations... to ensure a minimum of 80,000 new homes a year', more than in any year, save one, in London's entire history.

Few expected Khan to keep such epoch-making promises. But we did expect him to do something. City Hall figures show, however, that in the first year of Khan's term, London did not start building a single social rented home. By comparison, Johnson started 7,439 homes for social rent in his first year as mayor and 1,687 in the first year of his second term, after the economic crash. With two years of Khan's term nearly now gone, the great social justice warrior has finally managed to begin (drum roll) 1,263 social rent homes, many of a type he once denounced as 'not genuinely affordable'.

The same pattern applies in most other mayoral policy areas: big promises, followed by things going inexorably backwards. Crime is up by 12 per cent since he took office, with a far bigger rise in murders. February and March were the first months in history when London homicides exceeded New York's. On transport, Khan claimed that he could 'both freeze fares and invest record amounts modernising London's transport infrastructure'. Fares have, in fact, only been frozen for some travellers. But the impact (together with a cut in government grant) has still left Transport for London so short of money that it can no longer pay the interest on its debts.

As it said in a leaked memo: 'If this was our household budget, this would be the same as not having enough money left over from our salary each month to pay our interest-only mortgage or get our car serviced.' TfL has now been forced to suspend routine road maintenance, stop many investment programmes, and make serious cuts to the bus network. Even the first phase of this has reduced services by 7 per cent overall -- and on some routes by 50 per cent.

For the first time in 25 years, public transport use is falling, with tangible impacts on congestion. …

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