Sadiq Khan had a great night out on Tuesday. The London Mayor swung by the Tate Modern to acceptan award from GQ as the magazine’s “politician of the year”.
His victory showed, he quipped, that “it’spossible to be the mayor of London and be5’6”. But as he lapped up the applause, it emergedthat one of London’s biggest nightclubsFabric is to shut after its licence was revoked.
Londoners haven’t taken the demise of their favourite Farringdon nightspot well, suggesting that Mayor Khan should have stepped in to save it. But could he really have done so? The politician,who has beaten Theresa May to be namedthe most influential person in London by the Evening Standard, has washed his hands of the nightclub. He insisted that City Halldoes not have the power to intervene in licensing cases like Fabric’s.
But he did everything short of intervening directly to save Fabric. The Mayorrepeatedly urged the local authorities to come together to ensure it survived. He even expressed personal support for the club, fondly reminiscingabout his nights out therein an interview with Time Out last Friday.“I don’t want Fabric closing down,” he told them.
In response to a petition urging him to save Fabric, he wrote that London’s clubs were an “essential part of our cultural landscape” adding: “As Mayor, I’m determined to do more to protect them.”
He was even blunter during the Mayoral campaign on what he would do for places like Fabric,pledging in his manifesto to “protect London’s live music venues [and]clubs”.“We can save London’s iconic club scene,” he told club-goers in an interview during the Mayoral campaign with Dazed magazine. “I will be the Mayor to do just that.”
Fabric was the Mayor’s chance to show what he would do for the nightclub scene, and he failed to deliver. That’s not to accuse him of being deliberately dishonest, as he has never promised explicitly to save Fabric. As a media-savvy politician, he picks his words carefully.
But the sweeping suggestions he made about fightingfor the capital’s nightclubs have led Londonerspeople to think that he wouldn’t stand by and let another club close down. And so when the shutters come down on the nightclub, many seem to know who they’ll be blaming.
Now, don’t get me wrong: I don’t think the issue of Fabric, or any other nightclub, is going to sink Sadiq Khan in 2020. But his approach to this issue indicates awider potential problem with Sadiq Khan’s mayoralty: how he delivers on his bold rhetoric and big promises.
One of his flagship election pledges was to freeze all transport fares, declaring that,Londoners “won’t pay a penny more for their travel in 2020 than they do today”. But he ended up only freezing single travel fares, leaving the price of Travelcards and daily caps on Oyster cards untouched.
Mayor Khan talked tough on other issues during the campaign, suggesting that he would rein in transport unions like the RMT. “As mayor what I’d do is roll up my sleeves and make sure that I’m talking to everyone who runs public transport to make sure there are zero days of strikes,” he said in February.
But within days of taking over at City Hall, he was telling Assembly members that “we should aspire” (rather than “make sure”) to have zero days of striking. Given that the RMT had already announced strike action within that time, he must have decided that his pledge needed to be watered down sharpish.
Other pledges have been downgraded in the same way. Candidate Khan promised to “support housing associations in their plans to ensure a minimum of 80,000 new homes a year”, but Mayor Khan said it was an aspiration not a target.
Candidate Khan pledged to “oppose building on the green belt”, but Mayor Khan insisted that such an issue was “horses for courses” and that he would not seek to “micro-manage” such matters.
Those promises he hasn’t watered down, he seems to have shelved. Khan wanted during the campaign to implement a cap on London rents, a form of rent control. He pledged in his manifesto to “fight for the Mayor and London councils to have a greater say in strengthening renters’ rights over tenancy lengths, rent rises, and the quality of accommodation.” But when asked what he planned in this area in May, he told the London Assembly: “I have no plans to introduce rent controls or the powers to do so.”
Much of the disconnect between Candidate Khan’s promises and Mayor Khan’s agenda merely shows the restrictions onwhat he can actually do at City Hall. London’s Mayor is at the moment little more than a glorified police and transport commissioner. So Mayor Khan’scall after the EU referendum for more powers to be devolved to his office “right now”, carrying on a campaign waged by his predecessor Boris Johnson, is a sign of his frustration.
But few of Khan’s voters may know how weak the mayoralty actually is, and many of themwill still hold Mayor Khan to the ambitious agenda he offered them during the 2015 election. While nightlife probably won’t be a deciding issue next time around,his approach to the problem of Fabric may yet undo him on more serious issues.
That is all several years away, so the Mayor still has time to deliver on his programme. Butif he continues to over-promise and under-deliver,GQ’s Politician of the Year may find the awards will start to dry up.