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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The Thessaloniki dig problem: How can Greece build anything when it’s swarming with archaeologists?

Archaeological finds on display in an Athens metro station. Image: Gary Hartley.

It’s fair to say that the ancient isn’t much of a novelty in Greece. Almost every building site quickly becomes an archaeological site – it’s hard to spin a tight 360 in Athens without a reminder of ancient civilisation, even where the city is at its ugliest.

The country’s modern cities, recent interlopers above the topsoil, serve as fascinating grounds for debates that are not just about protecting the ancient, but what exactly to do with it once it’s been protected.

The matter-of-fact presentation that comes with the many, many discoveries illustrates the point. Athens often opts to display things more or less where they were found, making metro stations a network of museums that would probably take pride of place in most other capitals. If you’re into the casual presentation of the evocative, it doesn’t get much better than the toy dog on wheels in Acropolis station.

That’s not even close to the extent of what’s available to cast an eye over as you go about your day. There are ruins just inside the city centre’s flagship Zara store, visible through the glass floor and fringed by clothes racks; Roman baths next to a park cafe; an ancient road and cemetery in an under-used square near Omonia, the city’s down-at-heel centre point.

Ruins in Zara. Image: Gary Hartley.

There is undoubtedly something special about stumbling upon the beauty of the Ancients more or less where it’s always been, rather than over-curated and corralled into purpose-built spaces, beside postcards for sale. Not that there isn’t plenty of that approach too – but Greece offers such sheer abundance that you’ll always get at least part of the history of the people, offered up for the people, with no charge attached.

While the archaic and the modern can sit side by side with grace and charm, economic pressures are raising an altogether more gritty side to the balancing act. The hard press of international lenders for the commercialisation and privatisation of Greek assets is perhaps the combustible issue of the moment – but archaeology is proving something of a brake on the speed of the great sell-off.

The latest case in point is the development of Elliniko – a site where the city’s decrepit former airport and a good portion of the 2004 Olympic Games complex sits, along the coastal stretch dubbed the Athens Riviera. With support from China and Abu Dhabi, luxury hotels and apartments, malls and a wholesale re-landscaping of several square kilometres of coastline are planned.

By all accounts the bulldozers are ready to roll, but when a whole city’s hovering above its classical roots, getting an international, multi-faceted construction job off the ground promises to be tricky – even when it’s worth €8bn.


And so it’s proved. After much political push and shove over the last few weeks, 30 hectares of the 620-hectare plot have now been declared of historical interest by the country’s Central Archaeological Council. This probably means the development will continue, but only after considerable delays, and under the watchful eye of archaeologists.

It would be too easy to create a magical-realist fantasy of the Ancient Greeks counterpunching against the attacks of unrestrained capital. The truth is, even infrastructure projects funded with domestic public money run into the scowling spirits of history.

Thessaloniki’s Metro system, due for completion next year, has proved to be a series of profound accidental excavations – or, in the immortal words of the boss of Attiko Metro A.E., the company in charge of the project, “problems of the past”.

The most wonderful such ‘problem’ to be revealed is the Decumanus Maximus, the main avenue of the Byzantine city – complete with only the world’s second example of a square paved with marble. Add to that hundreds of thousands of artefacts, including incredibly well-preserved jewellery, and you’ve a hell of a haul.

Once again, the solution that everyone has finally agreed on is to emulate the Athens approach – making museums of the new metro stations. (Things have moved on from early suggestions that finds should be removed and stored at an ex-army camp miles from where they were unearthed.)

There are other problems. Government departments have laid off many of their experts, and the number of archaeologists employed at sites of interest has been minimised. Non-profit organisations have had their own financial struggles. All of this has aroused international as well as local concern, a case in point being the U.S. government’s renewal of Memorandums of Understanding with the Greek state in recent years over protection of “cultural property”.

But cuts in Greece are hardly a new thing: lack of government funding has become almost accepted across society. And when an obvious target for ire recedes, the public often needs to find a new one.

Roman baths in Athens. Image: Gary Hartley.

Archaeologists are increasingly finding themselves to be that target – and in the midst of high-stakes projects, it’s extremely hard to win an argument. If they rush an excavation to allow the quickest possible completion, they’re seen as reckless. If they need more time, they’re blamed for holding up progress. 

Another widely-told but possibly-apocryphal tale illustrates this current problem. During the construction of the Athens Metro, a construction worker was so frustrated by the perceived dawdling of archaeologists that he bought a cheap imitation amphora in a gift shop, smashed it up and scattered the fragments on site. The worthless pieces were painstakingly removed and analysed.

True or not, does this tale really prove any point about archaeologists? Not really. They’re generally a pragmatic bunch, simply wanting to keep relics intact and not get too embroiled in messy public debates.

It also doesn’t truly reflect mainstream attitudes to cultural capital. By and large, it’s highly valued for its own sake here. And while discoveries and delays may be ripe for satire, having history’s hoard on your doorstep offers inconveniences worth enduring. It’s also recognised that, since tourists are not just here for the blue skies, good food and beaches, it’s an important money-maker.

Nonetheless, glass malls and shiny towers with coastal views rising from public land are good for the purse, too – and the gains are more immediate. As the Greek state continues its relentless quest for inward investment, tensions are all but guaranteed in the coming years. 

This is a country that has seen so many epic battles in its time it has become a thing of cliché and oiled-up Hollywood depiction. But the latest struggle, between rapacious modernity and the buried past, could well be the most telling yet. 

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