Tony Devenish is a member of the London Assembly for West Central.
Sadiq Khan has been Mayor of London for five years and three months. In May he was re-elected for another three years, but with little enthusiasm from Londoners still more focused on Covid jabs than on who runs City Government. At the election, Shaun Bailey took the fight to Khan on crime and TfL finances – on both of which the Mayor has an appalling record. Despite enough Londoners giving the Mayor the benefit of the doubt – it’s worth noting that all three London Mayors have won a second term, but none have won a third – it remains unfathomable to many Londoners what it is that Khan actually does.
While Mayors Andy Street, Ben Houchen, and Andy Burnham boldly relish their leadership roles in their communities, Khan has been largely absent during the biggest crisis to hit London since the Second World War, with the exception of the occasional flip flop commentary on masks, social distancing, and home working. It appears the Mayor of London has taken a vow of silence on two of the other great issues London faces post Covid, while obsessing on his attempt to eliminate the motor car from our roads.
Aircraft and airports
One casualty – or, depending on your point of view, highlight – of Covid has been the end, at least for the foreseeable future, of any serious plans for more flights or more airport runways. Heathrow announced as much during the crisis and Gatwick faces similar challenges with airlines such as British Airways announcing they are leaving Gatwick. The cross-party, community-led battles of the bulldozer over the last decade to oppose airport expansions seem like ancient history. However London Conservatives are not so sure the battle is actually over.
Heathrow, just before Covid struck, had already begun to pivot away from pushing for a third runaway that was already prohibitively expensive. As the Government has embraced the green agenda, Heathrow has quietly attempted to sneak through more night flights and double-stacking aircraft over London’s skies. Amidst a raft of deliberately complex and opaque public consultations, which could have been designed to enable Heathrow to tick the box marked “Yes, we’ve consulted the public”, there has not been a peep out of Khan.
Flash floods – 25th and 12th July
London was hit twice by monsoon-style flash floods during July. Many parts of London experienced ‘once in a generation’ flooding twice in a month. Khan has rightly spoken frequently about Emergency Contingency Planning post-Grenfell and the 2017 terrorist attacks. But yet again when a real emergency hit, Khan went silent. I wanted to raise the issue with him at our monthly Mayor’s Question Time. As we were past the deadline for questions I liaised with his office, who agreed that I could ask for an update on flooding (the rain fell on Monday, I asked Tuesday, the meeting wasn’t until Thursday). On the day, he categorically refused to acknowledge my question. Any watching Londoners would have been confused: was Khan not bothered or just not on top of his brief?
Local MPs, London Boroughs, and Assembly Members have been left to pick up the pieces with Thames Water. One of my residents who was flooded called the London Fire Brigade at 4pm, she received an apologetic return phone call at 11pm. Few received any reply to their calls to Thames Water or our emergency services. You would think this would be a topic of interest to the Mayor, but it seems not.
His latest nickname at City Hall is the Maginot Mayor, after the French fortress barriers that German troops simply drove around in 1940. During Covid, Khan fully justified his other nickname as the Missing Mayor. Again and again he proves to be all talk and no action. His Senior Adviser’s recent communication on what the Mayor had done was a masterpiece in highlighting a politician more interested in looking busy than solving London’s problems.
The anti-car Mayor: Congestion charge and ULEZ
Whilst on every other topic from crime to housing to London’s post-Covid economy, Khan simply doesn’t seem to be very interested, no one can doubt his interest in London’s roads. His one consistent position over the last five years has been an abject loathing of the car and the motorist.
Time and again, the Mayor of London’s decisions have made it clear that despite a positive shift to electric cars, he intends to do all he can to drive cars off London’s roads. In fact TfL intends to stop – in their words – “subsidising electric cars” from 2025. In other words, taxing cars off the road isn’t even about cleaner air.
For three of his first five years as Mayor, Khan abolished spending on proactive road maintenance. In a classic piece of short-termism, the Mayor decided to stop the work that stops potholes appearing. He may think that it is just motorists who will suffer, but the reality is that this was a terrible move for all road users.
As the holiday season began, he quietly announced that the temporary, Covid-excused extension of the Congestion Charge to £15 a day, seven days a week and evenings, a temporary measure that just before the election the Mayor assured the public he wanted to reverse entirely, would in fact be slightly amended and then become permanent. These plans would hit faith groups and many who want to enjoy Central London at weekends with yet another anti-car measure. Please have your say on Khan’s tick box consultation by emailing email@example.com and making clear your support for an immediate return to the pre-Covid status quo. Don’t answer his eight biased questions, or you are likely to be marked as “in favour” of paying more. More details here and please sign my petition.
If that wasn’t enough, from October 25th he intends to expand the Central London Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) – a perfectly decent idea of Boris Johnson’s, when he was Mayor of London, to improve Central London’s air quality – by 18 times so that it extends to the North and South Circulars. This would mean that anyone who needs to drive inside the expanded zone and cannot afford to simply replace their car (as per the Mayor’s Marie Antoinette-style advice to The Evening Standard) would pay £12.50 a day to do so. There are far better ways to improve London’s air quality, but perhaps few that would squeeze as much money from London’s motorists. Many Londoners cannot afford another two years eight months of Khan, but that is what we have got.