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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Marseille and Paris are crawling with rats. But it’s your problem too

A Parisian rat. Image: Getty.

You can very easily have a fine time in Marseille, but it is likely to be interrupted by rats.

The bloated and brazen beasts are so utterly convinced they own the place that they barely register any human presence to distract from their hedonistic excesses – throwing wild street parties, burrowing holes in overflowing bins, and darting in and out of exclusive harbourfront restaurants. We only really intrude when the occasional, blissfully oblivious rat is splattered across the cobblestones by a scooter.

For many residents, the whiskery foes have gone some way beyond a nuisance to represent a genuine menace. Rats have infested schools and taken over canteens. Pest control services claim they have broken into cars and gnawed through cables, which may have contributed to accidents. It is also alleged that they have caused Internet outages by attacking fibre-optic cables – continuing the venerable horror movie tradition of cutting the power seen in Aliens and Jurassic Park. Rats are also infamous and prolific traffickers of disease and have raised the threat of Leptospirosis.

Rat populations are fiendishly difficult to quantify, given their nocturnal lifestyle and that many live off-grid in the sewers; but by some estimates they now outnumber Marseille’s human inhabitants. Distress calls from the public to the city’s sanitation department and pest control services have increased, and the unofficial fifth emergency service has expanded its operations in response, laying poison traps and sweeping the gutters.

Several factors have contributed to the rat supremacy. Marseille’s Mediterranean climate has always been hospitable to rats, and a series of unusually warm summers – often passing 30°C – have made it more so. (Rats tend to stop breeding when it’s cold.)

City officials also bemoan the wanton waste disposal habits of their citizens, which have allowed large and easily accessible piles of appetising trash to accumulate. Marseille’s councillor for hygiene Monique Daubet recently complained the city has become a “five-star restaurant for rats”.

Others have suggested a series of strikes by garbage collectors gave the rat population a turbo charge it barely needed. A single pair of brown rats can spawn more than a thousand descendants within a year.

That formidable birth rate is one indicator of what the city is up against: the urban rat is almost a perfect predator. Millennia of human ingenuity has failed to remove them from our midst or negate the threats they pose. Rats are supreme survivors – scientists marvel at their survival on nuclear test sites – and they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. They can eat practically anything, but are neophobic, meaning they shy away from all but the most devious poison traps. The rodents are intelligent, resilient, and their ability to colonise new habitats rivals our own.

Faced with this adversary, the local authority has assigned more resources to the fight, through both the city’s sanitation department and the private extermination service A3DS. Both are reluctant to discuss their tactics and whether they are having an impact. But officials are also taking a tough line on public responsibility, insisting that residents dispose of trash after 7pm in sealed bags or face fines. The city has also proposed measures such as mobile dumps and new model bins that rats should find harder to access.

The Marseillais are also keeping a close eye on events in the capital: Paris’ rat problem may be even more severe, driven by flooding from the River Seine that has forced the rodents to seek higher ground. In recent years, rats have overrun the Louvre and forced the closure of public parks, as well as starring in viral video nasties that do little for the city’s image as the capital of romance.


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has sounded the alarm and invested millions of euros in a campaign against rats, which has seen thousands of raids in hundreds of parks and buildings, as well as the introduction of more secure bins, and fines levied against people accused of feeding the enemy. Her administration has also despatched an envoy to New York to study the city’s approach to its own notorious rodent community.

An international approach makes sense given that rats are on the march all around the world. Reported sightings have shot up in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. One study estimated that rats inflict $19 billion of economic damage each year in the US alone. London has also seen an increase in reported sightings. Leading rodentologist Bobby Corrigan says the same patterns are playing out in the major cities of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

And for much the same reasons. Contributing factors include “too few resources allocated an organised program for rat control,” says Corrigan. “Also, more people in our cities means more refuse, more overloading of the city’s sanitation budgets, less thorough removal of the kind of food shrapnel that escapes typical garbage collection. Each rat only needs about 30 grams of food per 24 hours to thrive and reproduce.” A warming climate also plays a part.

Poison traps and culls can only go so far, says the rodentologist, arguing that a holistic approach is required to head off the growing threat. “The best measure is a city organised in addressing the rats across all agencies,” says Corrigan. That means mobilising departments of sanitation, parks, housing, health, and sewers, as well as mayoral administrations themselves.

Society-wide civic participation is also essential. “Controlling rats takes everyone: every homeowner, shop owner, restaurant, grocery store, airport, and so on. Not to do so invites the risk of a “new and/or highly virulent virus” developing among our old enemies, he adds.

Research into sterilisation programmes offers some hope of a new weapon to repel and reduce the rodent hordes. But not enough for us to evade responsibility while rat populations grow and the threat increases. “If we don’t work together as the wise species we claim to be and present a scientific, multi-faceted organised effort against this very smart and organised smaller mammal, we can have no hope of defeating it,” says Corrigan. Time to man the barricades.