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Why Sadiq Khan should be London mayor

Paul Finch
  • 2 Comments

Mr Khan’s proposition to exploit Transport for London’s spare land to build homes looks well worth considering, says Paul Finch

First you get information; context for that information may produce knowledge; judgement applied to it may result in wisdom. We hope to get the latter from politicians; if we do, it is evidence of statesmanship.

The forthcoming mayoral election in London does not present a clear-cut choice between the main rival candidates. Sadiq Khan is my decent local MP and, on the basis of his general conduct and comments to date, I will almost certainly vote for him. It is true that he has kept some worrying (occasional) company on various platforms in recent years, but he has taken courageous risks by condemning violence from the corrupted sector of the Islamic community.

His cynical nomination of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader may yet come back to haunt him more than it already has done, but he was scarcely to know that the other candidates would put up such a sorry show. Personally I don’t mind a bit of cynicism in an aspiring leader. It suggests they are in touch with reality.

Talking of which, the only thing where he has surely made a mistake is his campaign promise to freeze fares for public transport. Ken Livingstone actually did this years ago when he was leader of the Greater London Council and it did not end well. The public no more expects fares to be frozen than it expects anything else to be frozen. What it is interested in is the quality and reliability of the service, which will not improve by a self-inflicted finance shortage.

In respect of his ideas on housing, condemned by some (like Lord Sugar) as financially unrealistic, I have much more sympathy. No Mayor has yet cracked the question of London housing supply, so Mr Khan’s proposition, to exploit Transport for London’s spare land to build homes which include a substantial proportion that are affordable, looks well worth considering.

We should bear in mind that under the skilful leadership of TfL’s director of commercial development, Graeme Craig, plans are already in place for a programme of exploitation, with a new team of expert property folk being lined up to make it happen. No doubt there will be a policy of long leasehold deals, not the freeholds the current Mayor is foolishly offering the market.

All these matters will be resolved, one hopes, as matters of judgement, not just contingent political decisions. That is how you create a city, not just randomised buildings, and there is merit in the idea of a chief architect for London, their task to leave the capital in a better condition at the end of their term than at the start.

Mr Khan has more fire in his belly than the lacklustre Goldsmith

In considering the choices for mayor, Mr Khan seems to have more fire in his belly than the surprisingly lacklustre Zac Goldsmith. The latter reminds me of someone who, if he ever travelled by bus, would try to tip the driver as he disembarked. Green enough, no doubt, and sound on the madness of Heathrow expansion, but not an inspiring candidate.

The current election is a generally duller affair than its predecessors. There is no Steve Norris, the best mayor London never had, to provide technical as well as political credibility. No Livingstone firebrand, no Boris force of nature. It is an important election, nevertheless, whatever happens in that vote in June.

As in other matters, the task of the electorate is to exercise judgement. At the last general election, that judgement was as much about who would be punished as it was about who should take office. Voting for a mayor is a rather different matter – it is personalities and character, not just issues, that will determine the outcome.

  • 2 Comments

Readers' comments (2)

  • Full marks to Mr Khan for striving to find practical ways to tackle the desperate need for genuinely affordable homes.
    As for TfL, it's quite capable of acquiring a 'self inflicted finance shortage' without freezing fares - the collapsed signalling contract for the sub-surface lines (there was flawed evaluation and scoring during the bidding process, according to a London Assembly report) is estimated to cost £1,242m to TfL and £180m to the wider economy of London as a result of knocking back a 40% capacity increase by five years.
    Not exactly helpful to reining in London's relatively high fares for public transport, which hit the least wealthy hardest.
    I'd rather criticise Mr Khan for his apparent reluctance to face down the Garden Bridge mafia - that 'flawed evaluation and scoring during the bidding process' is perhaps just the London way of 'doing things'?

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  • Agree with all of Robert's points above and would add the ridiculous Hetherwick bus, Arcelor Mittal orbit and cable car as examples of Johnson's vanity project legacy. On the plus side for Boris he has started to get the cycle lanes running and stuck with the cycle hire scheme (one of Ken's legacies). Shame he didn't also stick with the extended congestion charge zone. Air quality might have been better if he had. Finally closing Oxford street to motor vehicles will finally come this time round. 10 years late but worth the wait.

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