Shouting was never Zac Goldsmith’s style but if he were moved to raise his voice it would probably be at the revelation that his former opponent (and new mayor of London) has already abandoned a key campaign pledge.
Sadiq Khan hasn’t just distanced himself from a flagship promise to freeze rail fares; he’s practically forgotten that he made the commitment in the first place. Let us remind ourselves of what appeared on billboards, posters and social media throughout the mayoral contest: “I’m making a fully funded pledge to freeze fares over the next four years.”
But yesterday City Hall revealed that its price freeze would not apply to travelcard-holders, or to commuters who reach a daily or weekly cap while travelling on their Oyster cards. Thus, for a vast number of passengers, fares will continue to rise.
Khan blamed the policy on the Conservative government, calling on Whitehall to “follow his example” and grant more powers to the mayor. All very well, but there were “no ifs, or buts” in his original pledge, and nothing has changed in the intervening weeks to derail the promise. Khan was fully aware of the difficulties in delivering such a sweeping pledge, yet went ahead and made it a central pillar.
Goldsmith always lacked the certainty and confidence of his Labour opponent. Whereas Khan built a campaign on short, clear messages such as the fares pledge, the quiet Tory attempted to make a virtue out of the fact that he – in his own words – would “never promise anything I wasn't absolutely sure I could deliver.” Every time he said this, the Khan camp must have thought “and that’s why you’re going to lose.”
The U-turn on fares comes hot on the heels of a massively watered-down announcement on housing. During the campaign, Khan talked a lot about the need to build 50,000 homes a year in the capital. Yet just days into office, his deputy mayor for housing says this figure is merely something “which we want to move towards.”
It’s still early days for London’s new mayor, but already it looks as if his core pledges don’t come off particularly well from encounters with reality.