The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and his four deputies submitted themselves to a public grilling last Tuesday. The State of London debate was chaired by James O’Brien and broadcast live on LBC. ‘I will endeavour to speak as little as possible,’ quipped the garrulous radio host who maintained his line of larky, locker-room banter throughout. ‘Sadiq Khan and the deputies,’ he said, ‘It sounds like the most rubbish band of all time.’ And he ribbed the mayor for ‘dancing like a crazy man’ at the premiere of Abba Voyage in the East End. Clearly a tight and cosy friendship there.
Khan opened with a sermon about how ‘humbled’ he felt by his re-election as mayor last year. He boasted that knife crime, gun crime and burglary were all falling in the capital, although he didn’t tell us which crime survey supplied this surprising data.
The first questioner asked Khan to tax any car attempting to cross the Thames. ‘Introduce charges for every bridge, to reduce traffic,’ he begged. Where did that come from? Very few Londoners want higher taxes and more congestion. It sounded like a plant. As did the next question from an NHS worker who told the crowd that he had cycled to the venue through ‘traffic free’ streets. He urged everyone to take to two wheels. ‘Life is far less stressful for patients,’ he said.
‘That’s a very good question,’ Khan replied, although no question had been raised. It was just an excuse for him to waffle vaguely about ‘freeing up roads’. Did that mean blocking more streets to four-wheeled traffic? It wasn’t clear. And O’Brien didn’t press him.
A black cop, in plain clothes, raised the issue of low retention among black recruits to the Met. He cited ‘bad experiences’ and ‘victimisation’ endured by newcomers. ‘You don’t get to bring your whole self into work.’ O’Brien asked him to explain that cryptic statement and he said, ‘being able to listen to cultural music without being judged.’ Which is interesting. The first policing question was about the comfort of the cops relaxing in their club house, or police station, if you prefer. No mention of jail for villains and justice for victims. The first priority of the police service is to serve the police. O’Brien seemed to know the officer in advance and he asked about his side project. ‘What’s your podcast called?’ The cop duly gave it a plug. Well, that was handy.
The next questioner asked why ‘minor crimes’ are no longer being investigated. He said his car’s catalytic converter had been stolen and he’d been shot with a pellet gun. Khan explained this in historic terms. When he became mayor, he said, ‘we didn’t have the police officers – so the police were rationing their time’. He asked the victim to meet him afterwards to discuss the pellet gun attack. Perhaps this is how Londoners must report crimes in future: bring it up at one of the mayor’s orchestrated hustings. But, in fact, Khan urged us all to call 999 when criminals strike, ‘even if you think it won’t be investigated... it’s a really useful way of lobbying central government for more funds’. In other words, victims of crime are a tool in his begging-bowl strategy.
Extra funding is Khan’s passion. He wants to cadge Treasury money to pay for the tube, for the police, for flood defences and so on. When it suits him, he pretends to be utterly powerless. Even over matters of life and death. He told us in sombre terms that the capital has over 1,000 unsafe residential buildings which are without any evacuation plan. Why?
‘The government said it was too tiresome and too bureaucratic to have a plan,’ he claimed. ‘It makes me angry when I see the government rejecting the recommendations made by a public enquiry.’ Khan’s poor-little-me strategy is a handy deflection technique that allows him to blame his personal failures on Westminster. He even claimed that the Treasury hates the capital because Londoners supported Remain. The parallels with the SNP are striking. If it were politically feasible, Khan would lobby hard to pull London out of the UK.
As a finale, O’Brien asked each deputy to name their most outstanding triumph in government. The transport guy said, ‘the Elizabeth Line,’ which opened last month after years of delay. (It was initially due to enter service in 2017.) What a charade. It was like watching a headlouse asking a tape-worm to describe its greatest achievements.
If pressed, most Londoners would struggle to name a single benefit created by the Greater London Authority since it was set up 22 years ago. Boris Bikes, maybe? But if they were abolished, a commercial supplier would fill the gap within weeks. Scrapping the entire circus wouldn’t make a jot of difference to the city.