Labour’s London Mayoral hopeful Sadiq Khan speaks to The Muslim News, Editor, Ahmed J Versi at the campaign HQ on Wednesday, February 2.(Photo: /Muslim News)
Ahmed J Versi
Everybody must have a chance to fulfil their career potential in London, says Labour candidate Sadiq Khan MP, seeking to replace Boris Johnson as mayor of the capital.
“The deal has always been this in London: you work hard and you get a helping hand. And I worry people are working hard but not getting the helping hand,” Khan said in an exclusive interview with The Muslim News Editor, Ahmed J Versi.
The 45-year-old former Shadow Justice Secretary has always praised the British capital where his parents, who came from humble backgrounds, raised their children to fulfil their potential. “London is the greatest city in the world; it gave my family and me the chance to fulfil our potential, to go from a council estate, to be a lawyer, to help run a business, to become an MP and now to run for Mayor.”
His worry is that many Londoners today won’t have the same chances or even to be able to have a decent affordable home, go to decent local state schools and onto university or even have the chance to have a good quality apprenticeship.
“Too many Londoners price diversity, you know the cost of commuting being at an all-time high, businesses feeling unsupported, our city being safer or healthy.” These are the reasons he says he is running for mayor. His priorities listed in his manifesto include prosperity and business opportunities, homes for Londoners, a modern and affordable transport network, a safer and more secure capital, skills for Londoners, a fairer city, a greener, cleaner London, improving health and making the most of arts, culture and creativity.
Khan is scathing of the modest results the current Mayor has achieved in the past eight years armed with an annual budget of £17 billion, citing the escalating housing crisis under his term and comparing the “huge amount” mayors of other major international cities achieve. Johnson, says Khan, has reduced the image of mayor as little more than a jokester, ribbon cutter and red carpet hopper.
“Bankers, junior doctors, nurses, put aside teachers, porters, cleaners, can’t afford to live in London. You’ve got houses being built, before they’ve got completed, are sold to investors in the Middle East and Asia – public land being sold off on a fire sell. Now I think the mayor can help address that crisis.”
His emphasis is to have affordable houses built on land owned by Transport for London (TfL) and to use the sales revenue to reduce public transport fares. “The only thing that has begun under Boris Johnson is this…cable car.” In contrast, he wants to “build up infrastructure programmes for London, Crossrail 2, extend the DLR, river crossings, new generation of buses that are hydrogen cell or electric cell, easier and safer to cycle.”
“Zac Goldsmith defines affordable homes as homes costing £450,000. Shelter say to be able to afford one of Zac’s starter homes you need to have an annual household income of £70,000 and a deposit of £98,000. So, what they’ve done is move the goal posts to make more homes look like they’re affordable. I’ve defined affordable homes in different ways.
For me an affordable home is one where you pay a third of your income in rent or mortgage. It is going to be one of three things. Either a home where you pay a social rent and the average of that across London is £105 a week. It is a formula based on many workers social rent. Or London living rent. It is one third of average earnings in an area. So say for example in Harrow, the average earnings a month is £2,100, the London living rent would be £700. Or the third type of affordable homes is shared ownership, where you part buy, part pay rent. You pay a deposit, we’ve done some modelling using TfL land, you pay a deposit of £5,200 and part rent element is £400 less than it is now.”
To tackle Europe’s most expensive transport system, where prices have risen by more than 50% in the past two terms under Johnson, Khan has vowed to freeze fares for the next four years through a fully funded package. “You will not pay a penny more in 2020 compared to what you are paying now.”
There are no less than 18 separate franchises running London’s buses, 40% of which are owned by the governments of France, Germany and Holland. “So the fares we pay on our buses, are reducing the fares, guess where? France, Germany and Holland,” said Khan, questioning why TfL wasn’t bidding for the contracts in UK cities and around the world.
Khan also pledges to eliminate the discrepancies between travelling by underground and by bus. As MP for Tooting he changes lines three times on the tube going to Westminster but with one fare, whereas changing buses cost a fare each time. “We are going to get rid of that, we are going to introduce a new hopper fare.”
He wants to increase the number of cyclists in a bid to decongest the public transport system and proposes several measures. “It’s healthier for the individuals who cycle. But also it is more sustainable for our environment. So, we need to make it safer and easier to cycle in London.” He is going to build more segregated cycle lanes. Secondly, around rush-hour in particular, “we going to try and stop heavy good vehicles coming into London especially around rush-hour. We’ve also got to think about, what I call quiet ways: to use side roads. We have also got to improve cycling proficiency, youngsters at schools should be taught how to ride a bike safely.”
There were no plans for him to extend the congestion zone, but by 2020 he wants to bring forward the ‘Ultralow emissions zone’ where heavy polluting cars would pay more than those that were cleaner and it could be brought in outside the congestion charge, maybe on artier roads coming into London. “Air quality is a big issue; last year almost 10,000 Londoners died because of air pollution.”
In his plans for developing skills, former Labour Minister says there is a “big issue of underemployment” doing a job that does not quite match qualifications. It’s an idea, he says, inspired by the Mayor of New York, Bill de Blasio, whose task force worked with employers to train skills for tomorrow. His own idea was “better” aimed at working not only with employers, but chief executives, entrepreneurs, tech, editors of newspapers and he would ask what was needed for the jobs that they are creating. “Good quality apprenticeships are crucial,” he said.
Islamophobia & Policing
When he praised London as being the greatest city in the world, he also recognised that there were challenges. One of the most personal was the increasing number of hate crimes in London, especially Islamophobic attacks, which increased by 170% last November after the Paris terror attacks. Apart from that atrocity the number of Islamophobic incidents still grew by 70% in 2015.
“There are a number of things we can say in relation to this. The mayor is in charge of the police, we need to make sure that firstly the public has confidence to report crimes and we have a very important principal when it comes to policing, we need police by consent. The police by themselves – there are roughly speaking 32,000 police officers – can’t do anything. They rely upon the public to report crimes, to be witnesses, to help in prosecutions, to join the police service. And that only happens if the public have confidence in the police, and so we have got to make sure we police by consent properly.”
Khan also believes that the police service “needs to look more like the London she seeks to police.” The police service also had to make sure that “hate crime is a priority”. He is a firm believer in neighbourhood policing because “if they make friends with the community, the community will have more confidence in coming forward to report crimes, it is really important.” Other priorities were to work closely with the Crown Prosecution Service to ensure prosecutions were presented and for victims to be more informed to come forward to report crimes.
One intolerant issue was when it came to mosques and Islamic centres, was when the police are approached counter-terrorism officers are often sent instead of a community police officer. “I am determined to have neighbourhood police officers that work.”
Despite spending most of his adult life promoting public participation in mainstream politics and in civic society, Khan himself has been no exception to being targeted regarding his faith and maliciously used against him by the media and Government cabinet ministers.
“My worry is, and people have said this to me, if this is how you are treated, if this is how somebody like Sadiq is treated, if this is what happens to him why should we bother to get involved? Why should we advise our nephews and nieces, our sons and daughters, to get involved in mainstream politics?”
“I say to them, London is the greatest city in the world, the chances I have had in London have been phenomenal, my cousins in Pakistan and India didn’t have those chances. There is no other place in the world where I would rather raise my daughters. But I want to have a positive campaign. I will not allow the desperation of my opponents to make me stoop to their levels. You know, we have got to celebrate the best of our city. That should incentivise your readers to register, get involved in the election, because our values of positivity, of seeing the best in people, of being a friend to your neighbour, those values are a beacon for the rest of the world.”
“Imagine the message it will send, to the rest of the country, Europe, and the world that London has chosen as their mayor the son of immigrants, someone who was raised on a council estate, somebody who is not just an ethnic minority but a religious minority, somebody who has got friends who are Jewish, Hindus, Sikhs, Christians, Buddhists, people of not organised faith. That I think will win over these people, that is how I am going to defeat these comments, not by responding to their levels.”
Apart from being told that he cannot win because of his religion, Khan also faces criticism from some sections of the Muslim community. His opinion when he is targeted because of his faith is that it only “shows how desperate they are. We can’t allow them to win by their negativity, I always say this, you’ve got to remember that in this country, in this city, we have more freedoms than in many Muslim majority countries.”
“That does not make me anti-Muslim that is just a fact, right you know, people of Shia communities are not being just verbally assaulted but their lives are at risk in some Muslim majority countries. It is a fact, right. You’ve got more rights here, than you have in Muslim majority countries. By the same token, I have got two daughters; my daughters have more rights here than they have in Muslim majority countries; that doesn’t make a sell-out, that is because I am proud of this country.”
Khan said he aims to be the “most pro-business mayor London has ever had, I want to be the greenest mayor London has ever had. If you look at our city, being a member of the European Union has brought major cultural benefits to our city, just go down the high street the food we eat, the shops we visit, the clothes people wear – the huge social benefits.” He also contends that the UK’s membership has made the country wealthier. “There are more than 500,000 jobs directly dependent on our membership of the EU. There are more than 60 of the world leading companies, Sony, AIG insurance – they have their EU headquarters, guess where? Here in London.” Half of London’s exports also go to the EU.
The choice on May 5, he says, is essentially between him and Zac Goldsmith, who like Johnson wants to leave the EU. “He is going to campaign to leave the EU. Are you really going to take a risk with London’s economy and our future by leaving the EU? But also think about why you love London, think about social life, cultural life, being safe, prosperity. I am going to be a mayor after May 5. I believe so strongly about this, I am going to campaign with the Conservative Prime Minister to stay in the EU. I will campaign with the Conservative Chancellor to stay in the EU, because that is how important it is to our future.”
Interview with Conservative Mayor candidate Zac Goldsmith will be on line this week and published in the next issue of the paper.