(Photo: sadiq.london, via)
On the day after the EU referendum, it seemed at times like the world was on fire and anyone with a box of matches was using the blackened stubs to sign their letters of resignation. Only one politician seemed to be keeping his cool: the new mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who sought to quell the flames. "You are welcome here," he reassured the hundreds of thousands of EU citizens who have made London their home. "We value the enormous contribution you make to our city and that will not change as a result of this referendum."
It is now 100 days since Khan was elected mayor of London. He has quickly learned what it means to represent a city which, at times, seems completely divorced from the rest of Britain. Since the referendum, a petition calling for London to declare independence has gathered close to 180,000 signatures. Khan has ruled out that possibility, but called for greater powers to protect the city from the repercussions of Brexit. He has declared "London is open", both to visitors and investors, capitalising on his honeymoon period as mayor to draw London together and fight its corner. At a time of crisis, Khan has shown himself to be a steady hand.
As the first Muslim mayor of a major Western city, Khan triumphed at a time when the world seemed increasingly divided. It wasn't quite the "hope and change" of Obama's first election victory, but it didn't seem far off.
But voters received a reality check just a month after he took office when a key election pledge over bus and tube fares began to unravel. It seemed that a promised freeze would apply only to single journeys, while the cost of travel cards and the daily Oyster cap would continue to rise. Bus fares may not get the blood racing in the same way as calls for an independent London, but they matter to ordinary Londoners. Here was a reminder that, while Brexit has dominated the headlines, the myriad slow-burning issues facing London haven't gone away.
Khan came to power on a manifesto big on detail, with more than 200 policy commitments. He has since appointed the team which will help him put them into action. Some appointments have looked more promising than others. James Murray, Khan's deputy mayor for housing, was a smart choice, after several years in Islington where he fought for greater affordability and more transparency over developers' finances. Sophie Linden, meanwhile, will oversee policing and crime, no doubt building on her experience in Hackney, where she gained notoriety for attempts to criminalise rough sleeping and impose a ban on new nightclubs in the borough.
Housing will be one of the new mayor's greatest challenges. London faces an affordability crisis, one that has been several decades in the making. Khan made a manifesto pledge that 50 percent of all new developments would be "genuinely affordable". Since coming to power, this pledge has been described as a "long term strategic goal" and he has struggled to define what is "genuinely affordable". It has been suggested that the target may be 35 percent for a transition period. Pragmatic, perhaps, but not the stuff of dreams.
The prospect of broken election pledges so early in his term means Khan has drawn fire from his political opposition. Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff says: "He's been in reverse gear, trying to shake off the promises he made in the election campaign. He said he would have a target of 80,000 homes being built in London every year. That's been abandoned. He said he was going to freeze fares, but now looks like he's not going to do that. All in all, I think he's got himself elected, realised what he got himself elected on was unachievable, and now he's trying to find out what to do."
Of course, one might expect the Conservatives to take a dim view of a Labour mayor's record. But Boff's comments illustrate the biggest challenge for Khan. To tackle the hard problems. To deliver on his problems. To be more than just another politician.
Richard Brown, research director at the Centre for London think tank, takes a more optimistic view. He says has been impressed by Khan's leadership over Brexit and points out that Ken Livingstone's congestion charge took three years to bring to fruition. "It actually takes a long time to get things into gear," he says. "He's focused on the leadership role while a lot of work is going on behind the scenes to get these policies ready."
Just as Boris Johnson took credit for the Olympics and London's cycle hire scheme, both projects started by his predecessor Ken Livingstone, the first major achievement under Khan looks likely to be the launch of the night tube, which has been years in the making and will finally start running this weekend. But the real test of Khan's mayoralty will be whether he can address the problems facing London's nightlife – such as the spiralling price of property and an onerous policing and licensing regime. On this he's made positive moves, creating a night czar role to protect London's clubs, although it's not clear what powers they will have over noise-concerned councils.
Khan's response to Brexit suggested he has what it takes to lead a city of global importance. But being Mayor of London requires more than acting as a figurehead. Johnson was masterful as the city's ambassador but struggled to achieve any lasting change. His time as mayor will be remembered for grand gestures but overall stasis. We hoped Khan might be different. In his first 100 days he has shown he knows how to say the right thing. Now he must show he can get things done.
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