Sadiq Khan MP is hotly tipped to become Labour's mayoral candidate. He tells us his plan

The Tooting MP wants more devolution for the regions and more power for London. So what about the upcoming election?

Sadiq Khan Tooting

Sadiq Khan, Tooting Broadway, 2009

“The thing about polls is you always ignore them unless you’re doing well,” says Sadiq Khan.

In that case, Khan must be watching the current polls like a hawk, as Labour has clung to a marginal lead in recent weeks. So it’s fitting that I caught up with him at a ComRes “Pollwatch Live” event in Westminster, at which he was speaking.

The poll last week indicated that both the Tories and Labour are vying for between 30 and 35% of the vote, with ComRes cautiously pointing to a Miliband-helmed government.

But that’s not the only poll that Khan will have his eye on. Last week a YouGov poll showed that he had enjoyed a huge leap in support as Labour’s mayoral candidate.  

Among those vying for the mayoral candidacy, the Tooting MP is one of the most prominent figures.

It’s widely accepted among politicians that Khan will run, but nonetheless, he remains the only contender yet to officially throw his hat into the ring.

But is that because he’s playing a cannier game?

It doesn’t take much insight to suggest that Khan may be happy to take on a major Cabinet role if Labour triumph in May, but if they don’t, then perhaps he’ll look to the mayoralty rather than spend another five years in opposition.

“It’s a privilege just to be asked that question,” he says when I ask about his mayoral ambitions, “but I’m making sure that we win as many seats in London as we can.

If you look at the best football managers, the best boxers, the best politicians, they’ll tell you that the most important game - the most important election [in our case] - is the next one.

“Other people may be focused on the mayoral stuff – I’m focused on the general election.”

While Khan is evasive, his unabashed devotion to London is also clear.

“My view is that London is best served by a Labour government. We currently hold 38 of the 73 seats, so I’m looking forward to hearing the ComRes polling.”

The polls, revealed after we spoke, indicated that Labour could up their 38 seats to 42, which will be a triumph for Khan, who was given additional responsibility for London in 2013.

However, they also exposed the extent of what currently looks to be a catastrophic performance in Scotland.

“The 2015 general election won’t be a landslide election for anybody,” Khan says, “especially with the emergence of the smaller parties, all of us have to compete for and earn people’s vote.

“Especially in London now, because there’s a younger population… people are less tribal, more meritocratic, and that’s a good thing. The challenge we have, bearing in mind how badly we lost in 2010, is to show that we can offer change, and that we’ve learnt the lessons from that election defeat.”

What are the lessons?

“We needed to recognise that we became arrogant, we didn’t spot early enough the need for additional housing, we should have recognised that the Iraq War was wrong.”

Khan also admits that there remains a problem in translating political engagement online into votes among the younger proportion of the electorate.

“We’ve got to look at how to persuade people to vote for us. We’ve got to inspire them, and I accept the challenge they’ve thrown down.”

Tooting Popular Front

Wolfie Smith, Tooting Broadway 2

Wolfie Smith, Tooting Broadway, 1977

Part of the problem, I put it to him, is that in comparison to figures like Nigel Farage, who have clearly inspired right-wing voters, there doesn’t feel like there’s a big message coming from the left.

Beyond Russell Brand’s anti-politics, there aren’t any icons like Wolfie Smith flying the flag for socialism.

“What Wolfie Smith was about was power to the people, and that’s what our manifesto will offer – power to the people,” Khan says.

“This means devolution to the regions, and London getting more power is really important.

“After the referendum in 1997 we gave London the mayor and City Hall. Scotland got its parliament and Wales got its assembly. We now need to redouble our efforts to give people power.”

In terms of the causes of voter disaffection, Khan agrees that parties haven’t properly addressed the issue. People are politically engaged, but reluctant to vote.

“I think that’s very fair,” he says. “Look at the last ten years – journalists’ phone hacking, banks’ sub-prime mortgage lending, MPs and expenses, Iraq, not finding the WMDs – the public’s trust in people of positions of power and influence has taken a real knock.

“What we want to do is try to win that back.”

If last week’s polls are anything to go on, then Khan is on the right track in London, even if is party is taking a hammering elsewhere.

 

 

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