How has London’s Mayor made a difference in the first 30 days of his four-year term?
Sadiq Khan’s Wikipedia entry starts with the following:
Sadiq Aman Khan (born 8 October 1970) is a Sunni Muslim British politician who has been the Mayor of London since May 2016.
Zac Goldsmith, Khan’s recently vanquished rival for the Mayoral seat, has an (admittedly probably less updated) Wikipedia entry which begins thus:
Frank Zacharias Robin “Zac” Goldsmith (born 20 January 1975) is a British Conservative politician and journalist who, since the 2010 general election, has represented Richmond Park as its Member of Parliament (MP)
At the risk of reading too much into the phrasing of a Wikipedia article, the description of Khan as a ‘Sunni Muslim British Politician’, is key to how his next moves in office will be viewed. The ethnicity of his German-Jewish and French opponent in the election, Zac Goldsmith, has not come under as much scrutiny. Now, 30 days on from the verdict of the London mayoral debate, the first Sunni Muslim mayor has made his first steps in the capital.
In the US election, experts have flagged Khan’s victory in the UK capital as an indirect dagger to the heart of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Mr Trump, whose most vocal moments included proposing a ban on Muslims entering the US, has said that Khan would be exempt from this action. Khan rebuked Trump’s comments with the following statement:
“This isn’t just about me. It’s about my friends, my family and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world.”
This leads us to the real symbolism of Sadiq’s position in the mayor’s chair: he is a minority, and he is welcomed. In the whirlwind of Islamophobia and scare-mongering currently in the papers, on television and online, Khan’s mayoral seat is inarguable evidence that we have not been consumed.
With these factors surrounding Sadiq Khan before his first day on the job, we can see how his mayoral tenure has affected London’s residents and infrastructure thus far.
Nothing keeps politicians in a capital city up at night quite as much as transport. Khan’s first bold move, coming days after his election, was to make the promise that fares would see a four-year freeze. In addition to this, passengers will no longer have to pay a separate fare to change buses within a set period of time.
Khan’s stance on property, specifically London’s housing crisis, was arguably the strongest pillar in his campaign, or at least its most vocal component. Three weeks into the job, the new major was called on to respond to the revelation that the capital’s tallest residential building was 60% owned by 130 foreign buyers. These included a Russian billionaire, a Nigerian ex-bank chairman and a Kyrgyz vodka tycoon. Political capital is often gained from the number of new houses built, but Khan says this will mean nothing if they are all purchased overseas, and empty of residents.
“They are all bought by investors in the Middle East and Asia for use as second homes or they sit empty” – Sadiq Khan
When Khan won the mayoral election on the 5th of May, David Cameron was put in the position of having to align himself with a man he had recently suggested had ties to Islamic extremism. Britain Stronger in Europe is the reason that Mr. Cameron now pats Khan on the back, in full view of the left leaning and undecided voters he would otherwise struggle to reach.
The Mayor and Prime Minister took to the streets of London to pledge five things that would be guaranteed, should Britain remain in the EU:
- Full access to the EU’s single market
- Workers’ rights would be protected
- The European arrest warrant would remain in place
- A special status for the UK in Europe
- Economic stability
Whilst Khan is no doubt one of the most important Labour politicians for David Cameron to make peace with, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has openly stated he will not be sharing a platform with the Prime Minister on the issue of Brexit.
As Mayor of the big smoke one of the biggest issues to tackle, especially in the infancy of your Mayoral career, is the pollution problem. As one of the most highly polluted cities in the world, London has provoked a slow, building outrage that has made itself known in the past year with protests by cyclists, Greenpeace members and the public. Khan’s steps towards a cleaner London have already begun, with major plans to increase the Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) and continuing the work of his predecessor by increasing the use of green technology in public transport. He will also be submitting a statement and evidence in a high court case brought by ClientEarth on the air pollution crisis in the capital.
Next steps: the near future
Against a backdrop of symbolic importance, Sadiq Khan as Mayor has spent his first 30 days laying out strategies that follow his campaign goals quite closely, but he still has a distance to go in order to achieve the promises he made to Londoners.
There will also be consequences of the measures that he has put into place. Former Head of Transport for London Sir Peter Hendry came forward with the statement that Khan may have to axe the number of buses on London’s streets in order to make up the loss made by the fares pledge mentioned above. In a foreword to a new report being published on the future of buses, Hendry states the following:
“In London, fewer but faster and reliable buses will both solve an acute financial problem for Sadiq Khan (the combination of his fares freeze and the complete removal of subsidy from TfL by 2018) and restart bus passenger growth, allowing his electorate to access work, education, health and leisure more easily.”
There’s no doubt that Khan’s best intentions strongly favour the up and coming Londoners, but whether he can make the changes promised remains to be seen. Apart from transport, the area which will surely come under the most scrutiny in Khan’s mayoral career will be property, and the positive changes that will be made to the property ladder to make it more accessible to buyers, and less open to takeovers by foreign investors. Londoners, and the world, will be watching the Sunni Muslim British Mayor.