Sadiq Khan doesn’t seem to know what his job is. The Mayor of London announced on Thursday morning that he was setting up a review to examine whether cannabis should be legalised. Just a few hours later, the Home Secretary Priti Patel reminded him that ‘the mayor has no powers to legalise drugs’. Duh. Labour didn’t seem that happy either. Yvette Cooper also gave Khan a ticking off, saying that the national party already had a policy and, no, they wouldn’t be pushing for legalisation. So please be quiet Sadiq.
But we all know what the mayor was really up to. Sadiq Khan wants attention. He wants to be a national politician by using a local politician’s platform. Yes, London is a global city, but the powers that the mayor actually has are limited to things like getting a few more houses built (which he’s failed to do) and keeping tube fares down (again, fail).
Khan doesn’t seem that interested in this stuff. He’d rather jet off to LA to ‘start a conversation’ about the merits of legalising weed. Given the mayor does actually have some control over the Met Police, and given London’s crime stats are all going in the wrong direction, legalisation is clearly good for one person: Sadiq Khan. But don’t worry, important things like crime are someone else’s problem, probably Cressida Dick’s, the first female Metropolitan Police Commissioner, booted by Khan over, errr, concerns about women’s rights. Classic Sadiq.
No doubt the mayor has a lot more time on his hands now his relentless campaign for a second Brexit referendum has failed and arch-nemesis Donald Trump – who, you’ll remember, Khan said was ‘not welcome’ in London – is no longer the US president. All this got me thinking: do we really need a Mayor of London?
I felt a little pang of respect for the good people of Bristol last week when they voted to scrap their decade-long experiment with a mayor. Marvin Rees, the Labour incumbent, will see out his term until 2024 and then the office will be abolished, with powers returned to a committee of the city council. How heartening it is to see voters decide that they want a bit less government.
Part of the problem is that while the mayor is in charge of general hand-wavy stuff like ‘strategy’, much of the actual power still lies with London’s 32 boroughs. I recently moved across the river from (Labour) Lambeth to (until last week, Tory) Westminster and the difference in cycling provision is extraordinary. In south London, there are lovely protected bike paths, separated from the road, which allow cyclists to zip past all the nasty traffic without the risk of being squished by some hi-vizzed chubby trucker. In Westminster, the bike lanes are mostly a joke. The Harrow Road supposedly has a bike lane, only it's just a strip of white paint on which cars are parked at all times of day. It's worse than pointless, because the council is able to claim they’re doing something while doing absolutely nothing at all.
The mayor doesn’t have any formal power over most of London’s roads. But Khan is able to sit councils down and knock some bike helmets together, offering a few inducements here in order to get a few concessions there. And yet, despite all his promises of being a pro-cycling mayor, London is still a car-ridden hell hole. Stop looking at the Dutch model for drugs, Sadiq, and start looking at how the Netherlands runs its roads.
In some ways, Khan is actively damaging local democracy in London. By focusing on silly, faddish policy areas that have nothing to do with his brief, he draws attention away from the actual governance of the city; the boring cogs of local government that mean that bins get emptied and potholes get filled. So if someone wants to set up a Bristol-style campaign to scrap the mayor, they can sign me up.