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Ayesha Hazarika: Sadiq Khan’s a shoo-in for re-election, but Labour’s powerful Mayor must now consider his legacy

Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd
By
07 April 2021
S

adiq Khan is a rare creature. London’s Mayor is not only the highest-ranking Muslim leader in a Western democracy, he’s a Labour leader who is actually good at politics. According to the polls, Khan is on course for a landslide victory on May 6 on first preference votes alone.

But since his initial election battle against Zac Goldsmith in 2016, he hasn’t faced any real opposition apart from Donald Trump who famously took against him. I wonder what it was about a confident, liberal Muslim leader which so offended the then President? The Conservatives, stung by their famously toxic racially charged 2016 campaign, chose a black candidate, Shaun Bailey, but rather unfortunately he has turned out to be a walking, talking liability. The Conservatives have already distanced themselves from him as they smell defeat. Khan also faces two anti-woke candidates, Laurence Fox and Peter Gammons. The battle for London Mayor has a strong Wacky Races vibe to it.

Yes, it’s all mildly amusing but running the capital is an important job and should be properly contested. A lack of credible political opposition is unhealthy for democracy and governance. I know and like Khan and will vote for him again but it’s not ideal that he faces no serious challenge. Yesterday, Khan launched his manifesto and it felt slightly flat. Of course, the pandemic has made things very different and gone are those big political events. Our city has been battered from a public health and economic perspective. There was a big focus on a green recovery with pledges on new jobs, energy efficient homes, low traffic neighbourhoods, clean air and more walking and cycling. There was also a focus on making sure the capital recovers post-pandemic but perhaps the most eye-catching announcement was a review into decriminalising cannabis in London — something many Londoners will be interested in, especially when police resources are so stretched.

But is that enough? To win, yes —unless Bailey has a personality and brain transplant. But for a guy on a winning home streak, could this manifesto have had more zip? Is this going to deliver a legacy he can be proud of? And does it chime with the things which many Londoners care about like truly affordable housing and reducing knife crime? And while the green agenda is hugely important, London is a city which needs gets moving again in every sense. He should challenge himself to do better and exceed low public expectations. He also needs to be mindful that the narrative that he doesn’t have enough power from central government doesn’t leave him looking politically impotent. As a Labour insider said to me, “He has more power than any elected Labour leader in the country. He has to show that winning is worth it — for all of us.” Not only is that vital for Londoners but who knows — in four years’ time, as Mayor Khan departs office, he may fancy a return to national politics.

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, also known as the Frank Spencer of politics, has done another whoopsie. He says children need more “discipline and order” as he prepares to announce “behaviour hubs” which sound like something out of Super Nanny. Who hasn’t gone off the rails slightly during lockdown? Young people have had a terrible time and handled it pretty well. It’s us so-called adults who have used it as an excuse to start drinking at 4pm, have crisps for dinner and stop washing our hair. But enough about me. Instead of slagging off our kids, he should deliver the laptops they were promised.