Sadiq Khan is often criticised for being wholly incompetent, but that is not entirely fair: he’s very competent at spin. Part of the job of opponents in this election is therefore to cut through this and point out how little of his rhetoric has actually matched reality.
Let’s start with housebuilding. In 2016 Khan described the election as a ‘referendum on housing’. Naturally then, his victory that year accompanied a series of housing pledges, most prominently to ensure 50 per cent of new homes to be affordable. He also promised to build 80,000 new homes a year and to establish a not-for-profit lettings agency.
How has he done? Well, despite apparently being a top priority, on affordable housing he has somehow managed to average fewer building starts than Boris Johnson did across his two terms. On building generally, about 35,000 completions a year have been achieved, well below his 80,000 promise and the 50,000 a year estimated necessary just for supply to match London’s growing population. On establishing a lettings agency, the less said the better.
This record of overpromising and undelivering has also extended to his handling of policing and crime – with tragic consequences. For example, every April since being elected Khan has raised the Council Tax policing precept (£55 in total), the justification being that this new investment would help tackle crime. Yet under Khan, until the Covid pandemic shook everything up, pretty much every category of crime in London was rising year on year. For example, robberies rose by 73 per cent between 2016 and 2019, muggings by 56 per cent and most tragically murder by 41 per cent – reaching a ten year high in 2019.
On knife crime his record has been especially bad. So much so that in January 2020 Khan glumly admitted that nothing kept him up awake at night more than knife crime. However, there’s not much evidence that these concerns translated into action; with knife crime rising annually until the pandemic, and killings up by 28 per cent over 2019-20. No wonder then, that 49 per cent of Londoners told a recent poll that they feel Khan has handled knife crime badly, with only 24 per cent thinking he has handled it well.
For many Londoners, perhaps the portfolio where Khan’s failings have most been apparent is transport. In 2016, despite warnings against it, Khan embarked on a four-year freeze of TFL fares, pledging that this would not jeopardise the finances of TFL and its investment programme. What happened? Well plans to buy new trains for the Jubilee Line and Northern Line were subsequently shelved, as well as the promised signalling modernisation of the Picadilly Line and Camden Town station rebuild – all before the pandemic came along.
Due to his dire record pre-pandemic, we can instead expect Khan to focus on events since: he’s already put recovery from Covid at the centre of his re-election campaign – a particularly shameless position considering his early backing for the 10PM curfew that caused so much damage to London’s hospitality sector. His foolish decision to reduce the tube service for key workers at the start of the pandemic, forcing them to cram into overcrowded and unsafe carriages must also not be forgotten.
This is just a small sample of Khan’s record of failure, where the spin has not matched the substance. London surely deserves better.