Sitting in a cafe around the corner from the Labour party’s headquarters in Westminster, Sadiq Khan says that he and the new Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, are not always in agreement.
“Ken Livingstone as the Labour mayor often disagreed with the Labour leadership, Boris Johnson as the Conservative mayor often disagreed with the Conservative leadership, and I’ll do the same,” says Khan, who won Labour’s mayoral candidate race earlier this month.
Khan, who has been the MP for Tooting since 2005 and served in the shadow cabinet under Ed Miliband, upset the pollsters’ favourite Dame Tessa Jowell to be Labour’s pick for City Hall in the fifth round of voting. He won 58.9 per cent of votes against Jowell’s 41.1 per cent.
Many attributed Khan’s win on 11 September – one day before Corbyn was announced as Labour leader – to union endorsements and strong support from left-leaning “registered supporters” who joined the party to back Corbyn. On 12 September, in his first speech as Labour leader, Corbyn praised Khan as his “friend”, saying, “Sadiq, we’re going to be campaigning together.”
But in the days since, Khan has distanced himself from Corbyn, admitting there may be “tension” between them, calling the Labour leader “very unwise and disrespectful” to not sing the national anthem at a military commemoration service, and suggesting that his appointed shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, had condoned terrorism by saying IRA members should be “honoured”.
And speaking to City A.M. yesterday, Khan dismissed many of Corbyn and McDonnell’s economic proposals, including a new financial transactions tax and a 60p top rate of income tax, saying, “I want to be the most pro-business mayor we have ever had.”
Yet Khan also told City A.M. that he would “absolutely” campaign for mayor alongside Corbyn, and defended the legitimacy of Corbyn’s leadership, saying: “Jeremy Corbyn, whether people like it or not, has a mandate to be Labour’s leader. I didn’t vote for Jeremy Corbyn, but he’s a Labour leader.”
Khan was one of 35 MPs to nominate Corbyn for Labour leader, but he ultimately voted for Andy Burnham in the leadership contest.
So will Khan be Corbyn’s man in City Hall? Or will he be, as he told City A.M., his “own person”?
Khan admitted that the “perception for the last few years has been that Labour is not pro-business”.
“I have to accept that in the General Election in 2015, many business people, entrepreneurs, were nervous about voting Labour,” he said, adding, “That can’t be the case.”
“I need to make sure that the offer that I have to Londoners in May 2016 is more attractive than the offer we had in 2012 for the mayoral election, and the General Election,” he said, repeating his commitment to be London’s “most pro-business mayor.”
Read more: Sadiq Khan beats favourite Tessa Jowell to become Labour’s 2016 London mayoral nomination
Suggesting a commitment to foreign direct investment, Khan said he “welcomed” chancellor George Osborne’s trip to China this week: “We should be wanting Chinese companies to invest in London.”
Khan repeatedly expressed an interest in China, even praising an American mayor, Eric Garcetti from Los Angeles, for leading a metropolitan trade delegation to Asia.
“The mayor of LA wanted to expand the ports and green LA,” Khan told City A.M. “He couldn’t get through Congress, so the mayor of LA jumps in a plane, goes to China, gets the investment for LA.”
“That’s the sort of get-up-and-go mayor I want to be,” he said.
In an apparent swipe at current mayor Boris Johnson, Khan added that he was going “roll [his] sleeves up” in all of his work in City Hall: “I’m not going to be an arm’s-length mayor of London who’s busy applying for another job.”
Khan has previously said that he wants Britain to have a “competitive tax policy” and vowed to oppose any increase in the corporation tax rate. But he declined to criticise Osborne’s bank tax surcharge on corporation tax yesterday, saying: “One size fits all doesn’t work.”
“There are some sectors in our city that are doing well, and they should contribute more, and there are some that need a helping hand,” he said. “There are some businesses that have been established for centuries, like banks, who don’t need the same support that small businesses need.”
Khan added that Corbyn’s suggested financial transactions tax “would be problematic” because “companies would leave here, businesses would leave here, trade would leave here, and go to our competitors”.
Yet he refused to directly comment on the possibility of Britain’s biggest lenders moving offshore, instead saying that there are “lots of reasons” why multinational firms are based in London, including the UK’s access to the Single Market.
A self-described “passionate supporter of the EU”, Khan said that London voters would have a choice between a “candidate who is pro-European, who is going to argue for us to stay a part of the EU, or the other guy, who is anti-EU, anti-Europe.”
Khan then explained the “other guy” was Tory mayoral hopeful Zac Goldsmith, telling City A.M. that he thought “without a doubt” the Richmond MP would be his opponent.
“The other choice Londoners will have between me and the other guy is I have actually got experience running transport.” Khan, a former transport minister, added.
Khan, who has vowed to freeze Tube, DLR and Overground fares while cutting bus fares, said that he “wouldn’t have allowed” relations between TfL and Underground workers to “get to this stage,” saying that as mayor he would speak to the unions to avoid industrial action, because “ultimately, strikes are a sign of failure”.
Khan seemed confident that his potpourri of policies had something for everyone, telling City A.M.: “I’m going to be courting Tory voters, I’m going to be courting Lib Dem and Green voters.”
“I want to be courting big businesses, small businesses, entrepreneurs, those who are bus drivers, those who are cleaners, those who are porters, because I want to be everyone’s mayor,” he added.