Nick Tyrone

Sadiq Khan’s cannabis stunt is typical of his empty gesture politics

Sadiq Khan’s cannabis stunt is typical of his empty gesture politics
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Sadiq Khan's decision to launch a commission looking into decriminalising cannabis is a perfect advert for his time as London mayor. It shows all too clearly that Khan values empty gesture politics over getting on with his day job.

Don't get me wrong: legalising cannabis seems a smart idea. It is, after all, a waste of police time and effort stopping the trade of drugs which are widely used and cause comparatively limited harm. But is it any of Khan's business to focus on this issue?

'It’s time for fresh ideas to reduce the harms drugs and drug-related crimes cause to individuals, families and communities,' said Khan this week. 'If re-elected, I’ll establish a London Drugs Commission – independent experts to examine the latest evidence from around the world.'

But why? There is a mountain of evidence out there already. We don’t need to waste London taxpayers’ money doing more research on this subject. If Khan wants to decriminalise soft drugs, he should just go ahead and say so. He should take a stand and pledge to enact it if re-elected. Instead Khan has, as usual, opted for the softer, easier option: by setting up another unwanted, costly 'commission’. 

As London mayor, Khan could start a commission looking into moving London to Mars or the feasibility of building a bridge to Norway. Just ‘looking into’ something is straightforward and carries with it no consequence. They are a way of seeming like you’re doing something in politics without doing anything at all. It's all very on brand for Sadiq.

To make matters worse, the mayor of London has no power to decriminalise drugs. Khan isn't stupid: he knows this perfectly well. Which means this is just a big stunt; a strange sort of virtue signalling to the metropolitan hash heads across our nation’s capital. The London mayor seems to want to make an empty promise to show he’s down with the kids. 

This is what so many of those, who, like me, voted for Khan have disliked about his time as mayor. Having had two showboat types as mayor in Livingstone and Boris, Khan seemed to be the grown-up candidate. If only. 

Khan was sometimes slandered as being a ‘machine politician’, but that’s precisely why I voted for him. Having someone who knew how to deal with the day-to-day grind of getting stuff done would, you know, get stuff done. On this front, Khan has been a bitter disappointment. 

Given the near certainty of Khan's coronation next month, it seems bizarre that Khan felt the need to make this latest announcement. When Khan is reelected, he'll need to rescue Transport for London from the deep financial hole it finds itself in. He'll also need to find ways to help get London – a city that has been effectively shut down for over a year – back on its feet. Khan must also offer answers to a looming real estate crisis in the centre of town. He'll have to find ways to speak to young Londoners priced out of the capital's housing market. And he'll have to reassure Londoners worried about the rise of street violence that they are safe. It's not hard to see that a cannabis commission should be somewhat further down the pecking order of priorities.

This London mayoral race has been a miserable electoral spectacle. The Tories picked a terrible candidate, the other nationwide smaller parties aren’t even trying, it’s been plagued with a plethora of joke candidates – and at the heart of it sits a re-election campaign from the sitting mayor that has descended into empty gesture politics. If Sadiq wants to legalise pot, he should say so. Otherwise, it's time for him to get on with day job and stop wasting our time and money.

Written byNick Tyrone

Nick Tyrone is a former director of CentreForum, described as 'the closest thing the Liberal Democrats have had to a think tank'. He is author of several books including 'Politics is Murder'