It is fair to say the year-long delay to the London Mayoral election has not increased the appetite for it. Nor have the last few months been a vintage political campaign of sharp differences, eye-catching promises and grand visions for the future.
That’s a shame. London is a global city and will reinvent itself post-pandemic. It is in the same class as New York and Tokyo and it will continue to defy the critics in Amsterdam and Paris waiting for its downfall. The speed with which Soho in particular has burst back into life as we turn the corner of the pandemic is testament to that.
But the Mayoralty in London is not on the same level as those other cities. Somewhere between figurehead and local administrator, it is at once too big to be ignored and too small to make enough of a difference. Turnout is likely to be wincingly low on Thursday, and not just because we’re still technically staying at home.
Sadiq Khan is, of course, the comfortable favourite. But the truth is his five-year record has been mixed.
Knife crime remains a vicious blight on our streets, hurting the communities which are already the most disadvantaged. Khan is not Met Commissioner, but Cressida Dick does report to him. Knife crime has gone up in the last few years, and convictions for knife crime incidents remain lower than for other violence.
Nor, frankly, have we got anywhere near resolving London’s chronic housing shortage. Here we have some sympathy – so little it is in the Mayor’s gift, that he is stuck asking for permissions here and planning approvals there. The capital’s housing stock has grown at a slower rate to the rest of the country, according to Savill’s.
His richly partisan, political anti-Brexit stance was all well and good for news bulletins, but it both ignored the blindingly obvious political realities of the 2016 Referendum and poisoned relations with not one but two Downing Street administrations.
Nor did it help the City, which needed a Mayor lobbying for the best possible deal for the Square Mile, not a Mayor attempting to reverse the vote. That does not mean full equivalence, at least under the terms Brussels is demanding, and there are many good reasons to embrace a looser arrangement, but that is confusing effect with cause.
It is a sad fact of the Mayoralty that a Mayor without the ear of the Treasury is often hamstrung by the miniscule budgets granted to City Hall, with much of the wealth generated here spent elsewhere. If the Mayor does indeed win this week, his first job is to repair that relationship and ensure that all levers of Government are being pulled to keep the goose who lays Britain’s golden egg from dropping dead.
But while his relationship with Whitehall appears rocky, as a cheerleader for London Khan has performed admirably. Barring missteps last summer, when he misjudged the mood of a capital ready to go back to work, he has stood up for the capital on the global stage. He is a champion of a modern, tolerant city, and whilst he is as prone to politics-by-twitter as any other, his lobbying on behalf of the myriad European citizens has turned what could have been a bureaucratic nightmare of the highest order into a relatively painless process.
He has been more pro-business than many expected, particularly with regards to small businesses, and the championing of migrant businesses, migrant entrepreneurs and the start-up community has been welcome.
He has delivered, against union opposition, the Night Tube – that, of course, must be balanced against the ongoing costs nightmare at Crossrail, though the blame for that also lies at the feet of his predecessor, one Boris Johnson.
We do, at least, have a record on which to judge Mr Khan. He does possess a certain tigerrish enthusiasm and you do get the sense he wants, and loves, the job.
The same cannot be said for his main challenger, Shaun Bailey.
Bailey’s career is not one to be sniffed at. He has looked those committing serious crime in the eye, and he’s also led others who might be tempted into that path away towards more fertile ground. One suspects many of his critics on social media would balk in the face of the challenges he’s faced through his work, and he deserves credit for taking them on.
But his campaign has too often focussed on his upbringing and background, and not enough on what Bailey’s London would look like. Putting more cops on the streets is hard to object to, but tackling the causes of crime – and the way minority communities in particular are policed – is frustratingly absent from his manifesto.
And where are the genuinely transformative pro-business policies to get the capital back to work? An airy-fairy claim of hundreds of thousands of jobs simply doesn’t stack up.
He deserves credit for calls to keep more cash in London, but he doesn’t go far enough – and while his policy to build 100,000 shared ownership homes and sell them for £100,000 each is radical, it’s hard to see how it would ever work in practice.
The Ultra Low Emission Zone has become one of the dividing lines of the election with Khan determined to keep its extension and Bailey arguing against it. Even Nero, staring across the burning buildings of Rome, wasn’t having arguments about traffic schemes.
Make no mistake, London is a great city but it is in peril. Tourists must come back. TfL must be given a secure funding settlement. More money raised here must stay here, piling back into the things that make the capital what it is. This is no time to be complacent.
But while most of the other candidates – a diverse set of anti-lockdown cranks and Corbynista-era dinosaurs – can be safely consigned to the rubbish bin, some of the better ideas, in fact, have come from a wing so fringe it is only standing candidates in the London Assembly.
Behind their rather lazy pro-Remain, anti-Tory rhetoric, the Londependence party offers a raft of policies that this paper happens to agree with wholeheartedly – London to have more ability to govern itself, more powers in education and training, public elections for the Met Commissioner, and standing up for the financial services industry as the Government undertakes ongoing negotiations with Brussels.
We do not propose that you vote for Londependence, by any stretch.
In fact, we are not going to tell you to vote for anybody. To do that would be to condone an uninspiring campaign, fought without the zest our city deserves. Our only endorsement is for a Mayor who can win the powers from Whitehall that London, a global city, unloved in its homeland but vital to the country, earns every day.
Then, in three years’ time, we will be able to judge the Mayor not on what they can’t do for the capital, but what they can.