Sadiq Khan is here to stay. London’s mayor has suggested he wants to stay on until 2040. But is this really good news for Labour? Or might the Tories be quietly pleased that Khan beat Shaun Bailey?
In the coming years, one of Khan’s tasks will be to go cap in hand to the government asking for money. Transport for London (TfL), which Khan is in charge of, is in dire financial straits. TfL is desperate for cash: its fare revenues have collapsed by 90 per cent since the pandemic took hold. Even as commuters start to return to offices, London’s transport network will need money to stay afloat. But when Khan inevitably comes knocking, Boris will be able to repeat his trick from last year – and point the finger of blame at London’s mayor for bungling the finances.
Of course, the reality is that this isn’t really Khan’s fault. London is one of the few cities in the world that does not receive government funding to support the operating costs of its transport network. Khan can hardly be blamed for collapsing revenue given what has unfolded over the last year. Nonetheless, it is easy to see how the Tories could spin this line very effectively – and paint a narrative that Labour can’t be trusted with spending taxpayers’ money.
This isn’t the only thing about Khan’s win that makes life easier for the Tories than if Bailey had triumphed. A Labour-dominated London allows Boris to suggest the opposition party represents rich Londoners but doesn’t speak for those who live far from the capital. Boris has already repeatedly taunted Keir Starmer as being an ‘Islington lawyer’. Having a Labour mayor will only bolster Boris’s attacks.
Over the coming years, Khan is likely to make matters worse for his party. He will double down on trying to appeal to younger, inner city voters as opposed to bothering much with those further out of the city centre who are more likely to have backed Bailey. Khan’s upcoming review of statues in London is a case in point. If statues end up coming down, Boris and the Tories will be delighted. In the midst of voters’ rising fears about crime or the economic effects of the pandemic, it isn’t a good look for the Labour party to be concerning itself with whether street furniture is representative.
As Khan dabbles in identity politics, he will allow the Tories to position themselves even further as the party of the Red Wall, with Labour placed more in the metropolitan champagne socialist bucket than they already are. As Keir Starmer tries to wrap himself in the Union flag, Sadiq Khan will be resisting this rebranding exercise. As has been shown by the dire election results, Starmer already has his work cut out trying to reshape his party. Khan’s attempts to continue to woo young Londoners is unlikely to help him.
So while the Tories came closer than expected to beating Khan, it seems likely that they won’t be too unhappy that Bailey missed out. The Tories can continue to talk up the stark contrast between Khan’s red London bubble and the rest of England, bar a few other large metropolitan areas like Liverpool and Manchester. They can effectively say to voters outside the capital: ‘Are you with us or that lot in London who look down on you all?’. Khan’s victory might be good news for him – but it’s hard to see that it will ultimately do much to alleviate the troubling spot his party has found itself in.
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