LIVING in the Home Counties and having no economic need to visit London, I travel there only for cultural and social purposes. My most recent visit was last summer. Having ditched my TV licence at roughly the same time, mayor Sadiq Khan pollutes my vision only if his spiv-like image crops up in my web browser.
I noticed on my visits that, unlike his predecessors, Khan makes use of taxpayer-funded official posters to push his name into the public consciousness. I have also seen that in the last year or so he has introduced measures to the fabric of the metropolis that are discriminatory: they are targeted to inconvenience or annoy only certain sections of the populace. What seems significant is that he appears to be targeting those sections that would never vote for him. These seem mainly to be car and van drivers, and those proud of our history and culture and the way this is immortalised in monumental form.
Khan’s latest stunt is to assemble a committee including confirmed Britain-haters to assess all forms of public monument in the capital to see if they conform with their Britain-hating political agenda. You can see some of the membership here. Despite denials, it is easy to predict what will happen if a decades- or centuries-old statue falls foul of the extremist sensibilities of Khan’s ideologically-informed cohort.
All of this baiting seems reminiscent of the tenure of Ken Livingstone, not as mayor in the 2000s when he could be constrained by the Blair government, but when he was leader of the Greater London Council (GLC) in the 1980s and set on a deliberate course of confrontation with Margaret Thatcher.
It is possible, if not probable, that Khan’s motive is not necessarily an iconoclastic fury to finish off what Hermann Goering started in 1940, but is precisely to do with his re-election as Mayor in the forthcoming postponed ballot. Both his predecessors managed to win two successive terms of office. Were Khan to fall short, he would be remembered as a lacklustre follow-up to some comparatively bigger beasts, an embodiment of the decline of London’s significance in national affairs as the government tries to move national bodies out to the regions as part of a ‘levelling-up’ exercise.
If policy will not re-elect Khan, confrontation might do the trick. So far the government has not made use of, or acquired, powers to clip Khan’s wings except as part of deals to address revenue shortfalls mainly in Transport for London. A stand-up row will only be to the benefit of Khan.
Present polling indicates that he should walk his re-election, as his Conservative challenger has faltered. A Labour mayor in the capital enjoying the largest personal mandate of any elected politician in the country is a good visual for the fellow travellers, especially as the Labour Party nationally is in deep trouble with a new leader whose honeymoon period has ended badly. Labour is also on the verge of a civil war that may be ignited by Jeremy Corbyn (oh yes, him again – he just won’t stop, will he?) losing a court case mounted to restore to him the party whip in the Commons.
However, what is good for Khan might be very bad for Sir Keir Starmer. I have not searched very hard, but the number of pictures featuring Sir Keir next to Khan seem very few, perhaps similar in quantity to those of David Cameron and Boris Johnson. Cameron was always upstaged. In the case of Sir Keir and Mayor Khan, an opposite effect could occur, with the Labour leader tainted by association with the confrontational Labour mayor.
In the 1980s, while Livingstone reigned supreme in his fief, his activities and those of political bedfellows collectively dubbed the ‘Loony Left’ in the capital were an electoral disaster for Labour in the country, and helped preserve Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 landslide victory in 1987, even after she had abolished the GLC in 1986. British politics would have been quite different had the Conservatives’ three-digit majority been heavily cut in the way Attlee’s was in 1950 after his 1945 victory. Instead of winning in 1997, Labour could have entered government in 1992. Ken Livingstone may have made that difference by undermining Neil Kinnock’s well-regarded electoral campaign.
So a second term for Khan may be good for Labour in London, but disastrous for Labour in the UK as Khan’s excesses, such as a policy aimed at tearing down statues, would have to be defended by Sir Keir, his MPs, or his successor, at the risk of further vote-losing party schism should he not.
So far, Khan’s predecessor has resisted rising to his apparently deliberate baiting. However history shows that Khan’s tactical ploys for local victory could be a strategic error for Labour nationally. Sir Keir may have to tame his attack dog lest he be held responsible when the dog gets further out of control.