• Development Intelligence

Elections 2021: Sadiq Khan’s second term

David Holt - CC by 2.0

If the DI team were setting a politics A-level question today, one good essay topic might be: ‘The serially failing London mayor, Sadiq Khan, won the mayoral election without even breaking into a sweat. Why?’

Do we exaggerate? We challenge our readers to list his achievements over the last four years. Go on. Have a try. Won’t take long. Shall we put you out of your misery? Precisely zero. Nothing. Zilch. Nada. Null points. He has delivered nothing. No hold on. Even prior to Covid hitting TfL hard he had totally screwed up its finances, if you can call that an achievement. And he’s managed to preside over the endless non-arrival of Crossrail. And he’s managed not to solve the Hammersmith Bridge debacle. Oh and not seriously tackle soaring knife crime. So achievements there, but just not good ones. But lots of photo ops though. Literally gazillions of photo ops.

The simple truth is that London has become more solidly Labour over successive election cycles. It has followed the pattern of many global cities: they tend to vote to the Left. Sadiq Khan in London. Anne Hidalgo in Paris. Michael Muller in Berlin. Bill de Blasio in New York. We could go on.

In reality Bojo was a Tory aberration as London mayor. Back then, he was a celebrity in his own right, and that was the Tories’ ace card. They have needed to find another celebrity candidate since, and they’ve tried and tried but no one has answered the call. When they had to fall back on Zac Goldsmith last time around, they had already tried to persuade Seb Coe, Karen Brady, even Nick Ferrari. No one was brave enough to accept the challenge. So this time they had a Z list candidates list to choose from and Shaun Bailey was the best of a mediocre crop. Nice enough fellow though he is, he was never going to win all the votes in his own family let alone Londoners more widely.

So the Labour candidate was always going to win. Sorted. But why has Sadiq been so underwhelming?

His first problem is that he literally has no experience of running anything at all. Think back to Red Ken and, after many years on Lambeth Council, he then ran the GLC for years long before he became London mayor. He understood how to organise and wield power. Bojo had no useful experience here either, but the Tories were wise enough to give him a powerful deputy mayor – first Simon Milton and then Eddie Lister, having been council leaders of Westminster and Wandsworth respectively – who actually did the ‘running the GLA thing’ whilst Bojo did all the London cheerleading and hanging from zipwires bit.

Truth is, all Sadiq has actually done his entire political life is campaign. Endlessly. Hence his obsessive daily need for photo ops and constant voluble campaigning, often on issues he has no legal competence over or ability to deliver, like rent controls for example, a major campaign plank for him but which he has no power to deliver.

But the one area where the London mayor can really make an impact is planning and development through the London Plan and his own significant planning powers. Once again here Sadiq has delivered virtually nothing. He has failed to grasp that he needs a powerful ‘go to’ advisor who wields his planning powers loudly, with strength and precision. Ken had Giles Dolphin. Bojo had Eddie Lister. They got stuff done, banged heads, delivered. The now departed James Murray (pointless) or Jules Pipe (ineffectual) just don’t cut it.

So looking forward, here’s the big question: can Sadiq do a Red Ken in his second term?

Ken’s first term in many ways mirrored Sadiq’s: he demanded viability killing amounts of planning gain, required undeliverable percentages of affordable housing, refused to meet developers out of principle and thus delivered almost nothing. But then Ken, who was still a wily old bird back then, worked out that he needed a very different second term. First terms are always run on a ‘hopey changey’ ticket. Second terms are always about ‘delivery’ (in reality usually making up for the lack of delivery of the ‘hopey changey’ thing because that shtick never delivers anything tangible). So Ken then met developers, did deals, reduced his onerous affordable housing requirements and thus delivered lots.

So, is Sadiq clever enough to understand this or will he continue to woefully underperform? Truthfully, the DI team doesn’t hold out much hope.

If you think your team would benefit from a free, detailed analysis of what happened at the elections and what it means for UK politics in general and the property industry in particular, please contact Eleanor at eleanor@development-intelligence.com.