A hypothesis: Sadiq Khan plans to cut and run after a single four-year term as mayor of London. In the meantime he will say and do anything he can to boost his popularity, regardless of the consequences.
His motivation? To present himself as a quick-fix, ready-made alternative to the current Labour leader.
Khan’s supporters may well be quick to dismiss the claim – but consider the evidence.
A mayor planning for at least eight years in the role would know they must be very careful about what they promise Londoners. There is nothing their next mayoral opponent would love more than to be able to paint them as cavalier or a charlatan, willing to say anything to get elected. They would also think extremely carefully about the long-term implications of their policies because ill-considered plans, while popular at implementation, can quickly come back to bite.
Khan has not been nearly so careful. Consider that his targeting of the Labour leadership has been a long time in the planning and then look at his approach to the mayoralty so far – he has promised the earth, embraced flashy short-termism, and stored up trouble for Londoners and the next mayor.
Look at the list of his broken promises: from a fares freeze for all Londoners to planting 2m trees, from a pledge there would be zero strikes under his mayoralty to an assurance he would build 80,000 affordable homes per year. Promises have been discarded like yesterday’s chip paper. And it is not just that he’s broken so many, but the very fact that he made them in the first place. Would a mayor who planned to seek re-election really have been so reckless with the truth?
Even the partial fares freeze that Khan is implementing will cost TfL £640m. In total, with the end of TfL’s government grant, the savings required by May 2020 are upwards of £3.5bn. Finding these will not be easy and Khan’s first TfL Business Plan only balanced the books by whacking up borrowing, slashing reserves and assuming wildly optimistic levels of consequence-free cuts to internal staffing and budgets.
This month it was revealed through internal papers that TfL’s fares income was £90m less than budgeted over the year to date. Given Khan already needs to make £3.5bn of savings by the end of his term, he cannot afford to cover for unexpected income shortages like this one.
His short-termism has been demonstrated further by his agreement to give in to militant union demands and waste tens of millions of pounds employing hundreds of station staff, initially ruled unnecessary by TfL two years ago and again by his own independent review less than three months ago. The mayor, in seeking the short-term deal that avoided two walkouts this month, has made future strikes much more likely by showing the RMT that he can be bullied and blackmailed.
Whoever becomes mayor in May 2020 will need to make extremely difficult decisions. As London’s population rockets towards 10m by 2030, the need for new and improved transport infrastructure is growing. As a result of Khan’s policies, the next mayor will inherit an underfunded transport system with little money for vital upgrade work, a demoralised and overworked police service, an unaddressed housing shortage, and an overly bureaucratic, wasteful air quality plan in the ULEZ expansion that will cost every London household £220 without making the necessary air quality improvements.
If Khan wanted to continue as mayor he would not be storing up problems for his second term. And he would not have made so many undeliverable promises. So perhaps the real question is: if Khan no longer wants to be mayor, what job does he really want?