London Mayor Sadiq Khan has launched his manifesto this morning ahead of the Mayoral election next month. Like his Tory opponent Shaun Bailey, they’ve both been highly selective with facts on certain issues over recent months and I’ll take a look at Bailey’s manifesto soon, but let’s have a look at what Khan has stated today. It’s not exactly that exciting or ambitious.
Firstly it’s worth bearing in mind that London’s Mayor has less power than equivalent mayors in the vast majority of big cities around the world – and whoever wins is heavily constrained by Westminster. Something to bear in mind when they make claims and blames. One example is a desire to make all London’s buses electric by 2030, yet the Mayor hasn’t the funding or ability to do it. Instead Khan states he will be “making the case for Government funding to enable this to be brought forward to 2030”. London’s mayor was weak by international standards before the pandemic. Now it’s even weaker.
One of the few new details is a plan to name individual London Overground lines. Plans for Southeastern Metro services to be taken over by London Overground seem to be all but dropped with no specific details given.
The manifesto does explicitly mention taking over Great Northern rail services from Moorgate though that isn’t possible without Whitehall agreeing. Under Chris Grayling, previous plans for Southeastern Metro to become London Overground were blocked. The area still has the same operator, and long gone are plans to staff and gate stations all-day. Major station upgrades are now opening without step-free access or much in the way of staffing or any gates, as seen at Kidbrooke last week.
Khan’s manifesto raises it’s first chuckle when he claims Woolwich Ferry as an example of his good work. I doubt you’d find *anyone* in south east London who agrees with that. The manifesto states he’s helped “to deliver better services and financial benefits — as with the Woolwich Ferry” by bringing them in-house. Who writes this rubbish?
Then again Khan’s grasp of river crossings never has been very good for this corner of London. See his regular claim that the Silvertown Tunnel will help with congestion, which Transport for London clearly state only improves north of the river while south of the river see greater traffic and queues when complete – signified by red dots on the TfL map below:
He never addresses this. He only ever talks of morning northbound queue reduction, and ignores greater afternoon southbound congestion towards Kent as two tunnels of traffic converge into the existing A102 in Greenwich.
Much like Khan’s dodgy claims, the Tory candidate Shaun Bailey responded today with some his own. Again he raised the congestion charge, and again hopes no one realises it was his Tory colleague in Westminster, the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who insisted upon it as this extract from a letter written to TfL clearly shows. These were conditions he insisted upon for funding to TfL to assist with the pandemic:
Khan states he will lobby government for the DLR Extension to Thamesmead. He confirms the Bakerloo Line extension is on the back burner, stating “when the time is right again, the Bakerloo Line Extension and Crossrail 2”.
I’ve written about the somewhat limited benefits of the DLR given it doesn’t really go anywhere of much interest north of the river. No major areas of employment or transport interchanges are served as it meanders through Beckton. The vast majority of existing residents will be better served by Abbey Wood Crossrail and improved links to it. Peabody want it of course, and if for one minute I thought they’d actually build thousands of homes it’d be worth it, but given they plan to sit on land beside Abbey Wood Crossrail for another 20 years, maybe work with what they have first? They barely do a thing when they already have good transport links.
The Bakerloo Line route already has many thousands of homes underway, yet it’s on the backburner. Lewisham was due to be the terminus and sees mass development right now:
The Old Kent Road is seeing many plans approved, with one major scheme due to start imminently.
In terms of airports he states: “London is also home to one of the world’s major airport hubs, and has a number of other airports within and around its borders. My opposition to airport expansion is well known, but at this difficult time I will do everything I can to support the airports and those who work at them, as they’ve been hit hard by the collapse in air travel and have a crucial role in our economic recovery.”
That opposition was so strong one his first moves upon being elected the first time round was allowing City Airport to expand. Again we see his blindspot for south east London and parts of east London.
One of the biggest issues opponents hit Khan with is crime, and in particular stabbings and gang crime. It’s another issue where responsibility for funding mostly lies at Westminster and not City Hall. It wasn’t Khan who closed dozens of police stations in London and cut thousands of officers. It was the Home Office and Boris Johnson when Mayor, which again makes Bailey’s claims a bit of a nonsense. London saw a reduction of £850 million in police funding.
The cuts extended far beyond London, and an increase in violent crime has occurred beyond London too. Kent saw a larger increase in stabbings, for example, in recent years with a 152 per cent increase in knife crime from 2010 to 2019, while London was up 11 per cent. Hertfordshire was up 89 per cent. Essex up 43 per cent.
Even on stop and search, there was a sharp increase under Khan’s tenure. It’s a contentious issue, yet one his opponents regularly highlight as something Khan is “soft” on. However in 2019, stop and search increased 400 per cent in some areas. It’s another issue where Westminster often took the lead, with Teresa May pushing for a reduction when Home Secretary. Shaun Bailey doesn’t mention that.
In terms of officer numbers, central Government fund around 70-80 per cent and cuts in London and beyond mostly emanate from Westminster. Government announced new officers after cutting 20,000 positions nationwide yet stated local taxpayers would need to fund half the cost. Hence the large increase in the Mayoral precept within London. It’s not a London-only thing. Head out the capital and a large precept increase has happened nationwide. It’s not Mayors outside London but via a Police and Crime Commissioner precept but the same principle occurs. Westminster cut funding, then propose to reinstate by shifting higher costs onto council taxpayers. Guess who gets the blame? Again, not a London-only phenomenon.
Bailey has called for 8,000 extra officers, though how he would fund them given the only method is raising council tax precept is a mystery. Unless his party colleagues fund it through central Government, it isn’t happening.
Khan takes credit for many streetscape programs though once again this is often coming from central government. The expansion of ULEZ was brought forward by Khan, though it was originally a Boris Johnson idea, and Tory Transport secretary Grant Shapps insisted upon it being expanded in a letter last year. He also pushed for congestion charge expansion in cost and operational times as this extract from a letter makes clear:
Shapps also insisted on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. It’s somewhat amusing to see Shaun Bailey going around stating he will remove them given it was Tories in Westminster who insisted on them:
A clear theme is Khan claiming credit for things he isn’t responsible for, and his Conservative opponent blaming Khan for things the Tories insisted upon.
On the issue of waste, Khan would like a tax on bottle and disposable plastic cups, but even on modest issues like this London’s mayor has no power, and it has to be approved in Westminster. In the States, most of Europe and much of the world Mayors can do simple things in their locality. Not so in England.
Easy wins ignored?
Another power London and English cities lack that is routine for overseas Mayors just about everywhere in the world is an overnight tourist or hotel tax. I was keen to see if Khan raises this but he doesn’t. Though he has no power over it, to not mention it as an aspiration seems an odd omission. It’s a simple way to raise funds for improved services. It has next to no impact on tourist numbers and assists local services from the pressures of tourism. It is usually scaled, so a five star hotel stay pays more than a hostel or basic B&B. Why Khan wouldn’t push for this I’m not sure. London is one of very, very few world cities not to have it. Income would help assist with pandemic recovery.
Khan also seems remarkably reluctant to tax the world’s super rich buying homes in London, despite council tax levels for multi-million homes being far below levels in cities such as New York. London’s status as a money laundering hotspot for dodgy middle eastern, Russian and Chinese money doesn’t look like being threatened. Stamp duty rises for homes at the very top end of the market isn’t mentioned.
Transparency International UK recently looked into corruption and money-laundering cases that involved 421 properties worth a total of £5 billion, of which a large proportion are in London.
Failure to tax those at the top and prevent dodgy money entering London property means higher taxes for those at the bottom and middle.
Overall the manifesto is an unambitious document that misses easy ways to help many Londoners. No new bold policy announcements are seen. Of course, even limited measures would need approval from Westminster given meagre powers (and given how Westminster and HMRC overlook dodgy behaviour they’d probably strongly resist) but Khan seems happy not to even raise them. In terms of housing there’s little to address severe issues.
It’s a funny old election. The sitting candidate takes credit for things that aren’t his doing, does little to push for change from those who hold real power while his main opponent bashes moves that the mayor didn’t even make – and ignores that his own Tory colleagues are behind them when it comes to policing, housing and transport.