“I’ve got the best job in the world”, says Sadiq Khan, City A.M.’s Personality of the Year 2016

 
Mark Sands
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Source: Greg Sigston / City A.M.

Sadiq Khan is feeling ambitious as he sits down with City A.M to discuss his first six months as London mayor.

Khan isn't just sketching out his plans for the next six months in office – the former Tooting MP is talking in decades. To be precise, he's talking about serving no fewer than six full terms in his current office beside Tower Bridge. And it's not entirely clear if he's joking.

“I loved being a lawyer for 11 years and I loved being an MP for 11 years. Those are great jobs, but I've got the best job in the world,” says Khan, the winner of City A.M.'s Personality of the Year 2016.

“From air quality and climate change, to social integration and helping businesses thrive – cities are where the action is. I love being the mayor, I've loved the first six months, and I'm looking forward to the next 23.5 years.”

Challenged on such a lengthy tenure, Khan chuckles – “what are you trying to say!?” – but underneath the jokes, he's ambitious to build on a positive start at City Hall.

The Personality of the Year award was given to Khan by an expert panel of business grandees. The judges backed Khan's efforts to promote the capital through the #LondonIsOpen campaign, and artworks proclaiming “Everyone Is Welcome” and “No them. Only Us” hang alongside the celebrated slogan in his office.

First six months

Khan says the award is a tribute not just to the hard work of his first six months, but also for the year prior to the election, when he says he engaged with entrepreneurs and businesses.

“During my campaign, including at the City A.M. hustings, I made the point I'd be a pro-business mayor.

“It was the first time in London's mayoral history during an election campaign that the Labour candidate has been more pro-business than the Tory one,” Khan says, unable to resist a sideswipe at his defeated opponent Zac Goldsmith.

He says London's businesses have shown an “overwhelming” desire to engage with City Hall, something he says reflects, in part, his success in distancing himself from Labour's hard-left leader Jeremy Corbyn.

“The Labour leadership has got its own view of businesses and the role of business, but I'm my own man. And let's be frank, there were some in the City who weren't sure whether I would be my own person or the be the representative of the Labour leadership in the City,” Khan says.

“I think they now know that I'm my own person. I've never been anyone's patsy.”

Read more: Sadiq Khan wants Donald Trump to unite America after he won the US election

Zac Goldsmith Goes Head To Head With Sadiq Khan In First Mayoral Debate
Khan debates Zac Goldsmith at City A.M.'s hustings in April (Source: Getty)

Trust deficit

Despite trumpeting the value of London's businesses, Khan believes a “trust deficit” remains between the City of London and the rest of the UK, and says that both he and the Square Mile need to do more to convince people across the country of the benefits of a strong financial sector.

“The City of London doing well benefits Greater London and the rest of the country. Leeds, Bournemouth, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow,” he says, citing the 2m financial services jobs across the UK.

Of course, no conversation on the future of the City can go far without acknowledging the risks, and opportunities, of Brexit.

Khan says the summer's referendum is the biggest event in a generation, and – perhaps unconsciously – he apes Prime Minister Theresa May's regular refrain. “We have got to make a success of it”.

He maintains that he is proud of London's overwhelming vote to remain in the EU, but adds that pro-EU voices must accept the verdict.

“My job as the mayor is not to wallow, or have self pity, or to sulk, or to cross my arms and hope it will be a disaster so I can say, 'I told you so',” he says.

“I've got to make the best of the result, and that means ensuring that businesses stay here, encouraging investors to come here, and the message London is Open is not simply to build on 1,000 years of London history of being open to talent, open for trade and ideas. London is Open is a state of mind as well.”

"We were told it couldn't be done"

And so, six months after first assuming office, Khan says his mantra remains to offer a helping hand to hard-working Londoners.

Perhaps it is with this in mind that he cites the new “Hopper” one-hour bus fare as the proudest achievement of his early tenure in London.

The system offers Londoners a “two for one” discount on bus travel inside of an hour, and Khan says he's hoping to expand it to unlimited bus and tram travel by 2018.

“We were told by Boris Johnson's team that couldn't be done, but we'd done this by September,” he says, claiming people have already benefited on 10m bus journeys.

“In the grand scheme of things that might seem small, but actually, I've met people whose lives have changed because we've reduced their travel costs by half.”

City workers may not be overly concerned with the cost of bus fares, but Khan's start suggests a genuine concern for Londoners who are contributing at all levels of the capital's economy.

Read more: Khan to blast the government for "shrugging off" City Brexit fears

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