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All eyes on Khan as Labour’s first big test


One of the warm-up speeches to Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership triumph came from the Labour Party’s newly-selected candidate for the London mayoralty: Sadiq Khan.

Like the new party leader, the Tooting MP overcome the earlier odds to secure the nomination – and the capital’s eyes are now on his bid to win back City Hall for Labour in 2016.

Barring an upset, Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith should easily win the Conservative nomination to be Khan’s main challenger. We will focus on the Tory efforts to retain the City Hall leadership once their candidate is in place, but for the meantime we contemplate what a Khan mayoralty could mean for London.

Although well known amongst the Labour activist base, Sadiq Khan is currently a relative unknown to many Londoners, despite representing Tooting for over a decade. This followed over 10 years as a Wandsworth councillor – which will be seen by his supporters as a boost to his local government credentials.

After brief ministerial positions under Gordon Brown’s premiership (in local government and transport), Khan came to further political prominence in running Ed Miliband’s successfully leadership campaign, following which he held a number of shadow posts, including the London brief.

So what do we know about Khan’s plans for London? Although not as overtly radical as Corbyn, much of the Khan agenda is based on similar themes of taking a more interventionist approach on planning and housing issues. He has spoken about placing what he describes as “the housing crisis” at the heart of his mayoralty.

Sadiq Khan has pledged to establish a new London Homes team at City Hall, reporting directly to him as Mayor. It is intended that the responsibilities of this new team would stretch deep: directly developing land controlled from City Hall, finding available land and sourcing funding. This team would also be responsible for lending support to London’s local authorities in bringing forward their own developments.

Khan has pledged to reinstate a 50% target for genuinely affordable homes, describing this as “putting Londoners needs ahead of massive windfalls for landowners and developers”. He has also promised to use planning powers to prevent ‘buy-to-leave’ investors buying homes just to leave them empty, and ensure local tenants and first-time buyers are offered first refusal on new homes.

Another key priority for Labour’s mayoral candidate would be to meet the needs of “Generation Rent” – and he has made various pledges on strengthening tenant rights. In particular, Khan intends to establish a London Living Rent based on the principle of rent being no more than a third of a renter’s income, although quite how this would be enabled in practice remains to be seen. Even more ambitiously, he plans to establish a Londonwide Lettings Agency – with key elements of guaranteeing six months’ rent up front, cutting out fees and ensuring rent freezes for three years subject only to inflation.

There is no doubt that policies such as these have the potential to be hugely popular, however over the next few months we see what credibility they secure in the minds of London voters, as well as what reaction they generate from the private sector who would have to work within them if Khan wins the mayoralty.

In another radical step, he is proposing that the Greater London Authority issues housing bonds – an alternative way of raising money to borrowing from banks – to institutional investors to build homes for social rent. This could prove to be attractive to investors, depending on the strings which Khan will seek to attach to these bonds.

We can now expect Labour’s candidate to set out much more detail about his plans over the coming months – and particularly once the Government’s Housing Bill is published in the near future.

With the polls suggesting that the race for City Hall is wide open – and with Labour’s 2016 performance in London being seen as a key test of the party’s fortunes – the spotlight will be shining firmly on Sadiq Khan’s plans for the capital.

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