Roger Evans is a former member of the London Assembly.
Last week marked the six month anniversary of Sadiq Khan’s election to office as the mayor of London, with the largest mandate any candidate for the job has ever received. Traditionally new mayors spend this honeymoon period putting together their own plans for the capital. Although the Summer recess has intervened, the nature of this new administration is now becoming clear.
It is rapidly becoming a story of broken promises and disappointments. To secure such a huge mandate, the mayor spent his campaign agreeing to the demands of myriad pressure groups and making pledges that he must have known could not be delivered.
The most high profile of his election pledges was a freeze on all public transport fares. Before the election there was a robust debate about what this would actually cost Transport for London and how the books would be balanced. Hard pressed commuters looked forward to seeing ticket prices held down, but after the election the promise turned out to be full of loopholes. Only single fares were frozen and holders of weekly, monthly and annual travelcards saw prices rise yet again.
Sadiq promised to reduce strikes on the transport network. In an effort to prevent industrial action he would roll up his sleeves and talk to everyone. The many commuters who struggle to use Southern Trains are still suffering regular strikes over plans to remove train guards. The unions have even scheduled strike days just before Christmas. Whilst Sadiq has been quick to criticise the government and the train operator, he has avoided raising the issue with the rail unions. He may have rolled up his sleeves but he is certainly not speaking to everyone. The irony is that London Underground trains have been running quite safely without guards for over 25 years and proposals have been made for the introduction of driverless trains in future.
The new mayor promised he would reinstate the ward based neighbourhood policing model with one sergeant, two constables and three PCSOs based in every council ward in London. It was a popular pledge but the promised teams of police have now shrunk to two constables and one PCSO.
A promise not to interfere in operational policing has also been broken. Plans to introduce spit guards to protect officers from diseases such as hepatitis were halted by the mayor, pending a second consultation exercise. Policing London is a demanding task and our officers deserve the proper equipment for the job.
Perhaps the biggest issue during the election was housing. Soaring property prices have pushed home ownership out of reach for Londoners so more homes need to be built. Sadiq pledged 80,000 new homes per year but he now describes this as an aspiration and refuses to commit to the number as a target, despite pressure from Conservative London Assembly Members.
He also promised that he would safeguard the green belt, but when pressed by the Members for Croydon and Redbridge he refused to rule out green belt housing schemes in those outer London boroughs.
Then there was the promise to plant 2 million new trees by 2020, which he made in a bid to outflank Goldsmith’s environmental credentials. This target has now been reduced to five per cent of current tree cover, which is around 400,000 new trees by 2020.
Politicians are known for breaking promises and unpredictable events mean that there will always be some disappointments which is why it is wise to ensure that election pledges can be delivered. In London it takes a strong character to say no to the noisy pressure groups that make demands before elections, but we expect our mayor to have that strength. The used car approach to campaigning, promising anything to get votes, harms the reputation of the mayor and the wider reputation of politicians.