Who is Sadiq Khan – and what are his priorities now he's mayor of London?

London's new mayor, in fine fettle. Image: Getty.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting, has just been elected as the third mayor of London. We're still waiting for the final count (and will update this post when we have it); but it will show that he's the winner. 

London’s new mayor was born in 1970, the fifth of eight siblings born to Pakistani parents living in a council estate in Earlsfield. His father, as he has on occasion mentioned during his mayoral campaign, was a bus driver.

Khan studied law at the University of North London, and became a human rights lawyer, before entering parliament in 2005. He served in Gordon Brown’s Labour government as junior minister for communities, and then, in 2009, became the first Muslim to attend Cabinet as transport minister. He kept the brief when he joined the shadow cabinet after Labour’s election defeat the following year.

Khan’s victory makes him the first Muslim to serve as the mayor of a major western capital. (While we’re doing facts and figures: around 12 per cent of Londoners identify as Muslims.)

So, what does London’s new mayor want to do? Here’s a brief rundown of his priorities...

Building more housing

Khan has promised to set up a new agency called “Homes for Londoners”, which will, well, build a lot more homes. That means using his “planning, funding, and land powers alongside new experts to raise investment, assemble land”.

He’s promised he’ll focus his efforts on publicly owned brownfield land – stuff owned by Transport for London (TfL) and so forth. He’s promised he won’t touch the green belt, and he’s implied he doesn’t think much of skyscrapers. (Those things will impose a limit on how fixed this crisis gets, by hey.)

Make sure housing is more affordable

On top of that, Khan has promised support for councils and housing associations to build more social housing. He’ll also create a “London Living Rent”, a new class of properties in which rents are a third of average local wages (details pending). And he’ll make sure new homes will be offered to Londoners first (ditto).

He’s also promised to improve life for renters, by setting up a London-wide, not for profit lettings agency, creating a landlord licensing scheme.

Transport

Khan has promised to freeze transport fares for four years. And he’s said he’ll create a one hour bus “Hopper” ticket, with which you can switch buses without paying a second fare.

He’s also promised to back Crossrail 2 and the Bakerloo line extension – but since the first set of pledges will do horrible things to TfL’s finances, it’s not entirely clear how. He’s promised to explore “new revenue raising opportunities”, but still, hmmm.

Oh, and he’s promised to keep building cycle lanes and to make walking nicer, too.

Sorting out air pollution

Khan says this one is important to him (his manifesto contained the revelation that he suffers from adult-onset asthma).

So, he’s promising to consult on an Ultra-Low Emission Zone. He’s also looking into “Clean Bus Corridors” – that is, replacing polluting buses with new clean ones along the most polluted roads. And from 2020, he says, TfL will only buy clean electric or hydrogen buses.

Khan has also promised to deliver charging infrastructure for electric cars, and to “embark on a major tree-planting programme across London”.

Oh, and he’s opposed to a third runway at Heathrow Airport. That’s another one of those policies we’re putting in the “let’s see if it survives contact with the enemy” pile.

And the rest...

Among the assorted other things Sadiq Khan has claimed will be his priorities, he has promised he will:

  • Restore neighbourhood policing, and tackle gangs and knife crime;
  • Review the resourcing of our fire service;
  • Be “the most pro-business mayor yet”;
  • “Work with employers to make London a Living Wage City”;
  • “Challenge gender inequality” and “remove the barriers to women’s success”;
  • “Make London a fairer and more tolerant city”;

That’s a lot of big promises to live up to.

London has just given Sadiq Khan a hell of a mandate. Let’s see what he does with it.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric and tweets too much.

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Worried Guildford will be destroyed by Chinese trains? Then you might not be very nice

A South West Train at Waterloo. Image: Getty.

Despite the collapse of everything else that more-or-less worked in 2008 Britain, before the Hunger Games years began, some things remain constant. One of the things that’s near-mathematical in its constancy is that, when a new train contract is let, people on both sides of the political spectrum will say extremely stupid things for perceived partisan advantage.

This week saw the award of the contract to run trains to the south west of London, and unsurprisingly, the saying stupid things lobby was out in force. Oddly – perhaps a Corbyn-Brexit trend – the saying of egregiously stupid racist lies, rather than moderately stupid things, was most pronounced on the left.

As we’ve done to death here: rail in Great Britain is publicly run. The rail infrastructure is 100 per cent publicly owned, and train operators operate on government contracts, apart from a few weird anomalies. Some physical trains are owned by private investors, but to claim rail isn’t publicly run would be like claiming the NHS was the same as American healthcare because some hospital buildings are maintained by construction firms.

Every seven years or so, companies bid for the right to pay the UK government to operate trains in a particular area. This is the standard procedure: for railways that are lossmaking but community-important, or where they are within a major city and have no important external connections, or where there’s a major infrastructure project going on that’ll ruin everything, special measures take place.

The South Western England franchise is not one of these. It’s a profitable set of train routes which doesn’t quite live up to its name. Although it inherited a few Devon and Dorset routes from the old days, its day job involves transporting hundreds of thousands of Reginald Perrins and Mark Corrigans from London’s outer suburbs and Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire’s satellite towns to the grinding misery of desk jobs that pay a great deal of money.

(If your office is in the actual City of London, a fair trek from the railway’s Waterloo terminus, then you get the extra fun of an extra daily trip on the silliest and smelliest Tube line, and you get even more money still.)

Anyway. The South Western concession went up for auction, and Scottish bus and train operator First Group won out over Scottish bus and train operator Stagecoach, the latter of which had run the franchise for the preceding 20 years. (Yes, I know 20 isn’t a multiple of 7. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can and you wouldn’t enjoy it.)

First will manage the introduction of a bunch of new trains, which will be paid for by other people, and will pay the government £2.2bn in premiums for being allowed to run the service.

One might expect the reaction to this to be quite muted, because it’s quite a boring story. “The government does quite a good deal under which there’ll be more trains, it’ll be paid lots of money, and this will ultimately be paid back by well-paid people paying more train fares.” But these are not normal times.


First Group has decided for the purposes of this franchise to team up with MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s extremely good metro railway. MTR has a 30 per cent share in the combined business, and will presumably help advise First Group about how to run good metro railways, in exchange for taking a cut of the profits (which, for UK train franchises, tend to be about 3 per cent of total revenue).

The RMT, famous for being the least sensible or survival-oriented union in the UK since the National Union of Mineworkers, has taken exception to a Hong Kong company being involved in the railways, since in their Brexity, curly sandwich-eating eyes, only decent honest British Rail has ever delivered good railways anywhere in the world.

“A foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense,” the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash said in a press release.

This is not true. Partly that's because a 30 per cent share of those 3 per cent profits is less than 1 per cent of total revenues, so hardly making a killing. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s misleading to call MTR “state-owned”. While it’s majority owned by the Hong Kong government (not the same body as the central Chinese state), it’s also partly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. More to the point, this a really odd way of describing a transport authority controlled by a devolved body. I wouldn’t call the Glasgow subway “UK-state owned” either.

So this fuss is intensely, ridiculously stupid.

There’s an argument – it’s a bad argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be properly privatised without government subsidy.

There’s an argument – it’s a slightly less stupid argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be returned to the public sector so we can enjoy the glory days of British Rail again.

The glory days of British Rail, illustrated in passenger numbers. Image: AbsolutelyPureMilk/Wikipedia.

But to claim that the problem is neither of these things, but rather that the companies who are operating trains on the publicly run network are partially foreign owned, makes you sound like a blithering xenophobe.

In fact, if you think it’s reasonable for a Scottish company to run trains but not for a Hong Kong company to run them, then that's me being pretty bloody polite all things considered.

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