Nick Tyrone

Why is Sadiq Khan talking London down?

Why is Sadiq Khan talking London down?
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Sadiq Khan's powers as London mayor are relatively limited, but part of his remit is to act as a salesman for London. He is there to talk up the virtues of one of the greatest cities in the world. It was surprising then to see him concede at the weekend that we have to 'accept the fact that there is potentially an existential threat to central London as we know it.' This surely is the opposite of what the mayor of London should be saying at this moment in time. It also demonstrates why Sadiq Khan deserves to lose the election in May.

Sadiq Khan already lost my vote months ago when he announced that the next mayoral contest would be a referendum on rent control. Even though I don’t rent out any property, nor think I will be doing so anytime in the near future, this quickly turned me off. Rent controls are a bad idea; they have been repeatedly shown to be poor public policy wherever they have been attempted. Beyond that, I hate being told my vote is a referendum on anything in a representative democracy. Set out your stall and then I’ll decide whether to vote for you or not; don’t tell me that a vote for you represents something beyond my faith in your ability to perform the duties of the office and do the things you say you’ll do. 

This was on top of the fact that Khan has been a disappointment in lots of ways as mayor. I voted for him in 2016 because I thought he might get things done. That turned out to be a false hope.

If he hadn’t have lost me already, the interview over the weekend, particularly the part in which he spoke about the existential threat to London, would have convinced me not to vote for him again on its own. I hate this talk, a lot of it coming from Labourite and other figures from the left, about how the Covid crisis is going to result in some paradigm shift in society, with everything becoming radically different. 

Now I have no idea what the fallout from the Covid crisis will be exactly, but I can’t help but be reminded of 2008 when we were told by many leading figures from the left that the financial crash was going to result in the ultimate failure of capitalism, ushering in a new era of socialist wonder. 

In 2020, this has transformed into talk of everyone staying permanently in their silos, afraid to come into city centres, despite the revelation of the vaccine. I believe the opposite is much more likely, with people missing large urban areas and flooding back as soon as they think they are safe again. It reflects badly on Sadiq Khan that he has seemingly bought so heavily into this solipsistic fantasy doing the rounds on parts of the left.

There is an even bigger concern here, though. If Khan really thinks that central London is under existential threat, what is he proposing to do to avert this looming crisis? As far as I can tell, he seems to feel like nothing can be done and we just have to roll with the punches. Everyone is going to work from the suburbs from now on, I guess; hey, London had a good run, being a world-class city for centuries, but I guess we’ll have the memories, right? Shouldn’t it be part of the mayor’s job to talk London up, particularly at a moment when that would be helpful? And if it isn't, what solutions is Khan offering to this looming crisis?

London will recover from Covid, just as it has done from any of the other disasters that has befallen the city over its long, proud history. What will unfold in 2021? No one really knows, but here's a guess: property prices dip and rents fall, causing businesses to flood back. As they do, property prices rise and rents go up again. This cycle repeats itself across London all the time; why not again?

In spite of my belief that the city will recuperate on its own steam in the coming months and years, it’s still clear to me that London needs a mayor that is going to act as proactively as possible in allowing that to happen. There were already big doubts about Khan’s abilities as mayor before his comments this weekend. But his view of the 'existential threat' to London surely casts an even bigger shadow. At this difficult time, London needs a mayor that wants to save it, not bury it. Sadiq Khan is not the person for the job.