For London, the “months and years ahead are going to be extremely tough,” with “major structural change affecting the city” as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sadiq Khan warned today.
But “the energy and ingenuity of Londoners will get us through and direct our recovery”, he told the Centre for London annual London Conference, praising Londoners’ resilience and even evoking George VI’s rallying cry during the Blitz, that “it is not the walls that make the city, but the people who live within them”.
In contrast the Mayor had central government firmly in his sights, not only for “dither and delay” in responding to the pandemic and for promoting divide and rule populism, but for using the crisis to row back on devolution and “hoard more power at the centre”.
The government has failed to learn lessons from the first wave of the pandemic, leaving it too late to impose a short “circuit breaker” as he and others have urged, Khan said. “Businesses will be extremely angry that the right action wasn’t taken and the right time. We’ve all been let down by central government, and the result will be more lives lost, more jobs at risk, more livelihoods devastated.”
And London is facing an “increasingly hostile” domestic environment, he said. “Government seems happy to undermine our capital city, attacking us to shore up their vote elsewhere.”
Khan argued that this is a misguided tactic, which falsely seeks to target the city for the decisions of national government and to pit different areas against each other, while failing to address the “real problems” – insufficient investment across the country and the need for “much more meaningful devolution to weaken the stranglehold of Whitehall”.
Parts of London feel as remote from Westminster as other parts of country, the Mayor said. And referring to the weekend’s 11th- hour conditional bailout for Transport for London, he added: “As Mayor of London it certainly doesn’t feel like London is getting special treatment from the government – quite the opposite!”
The wrangling between City Hall and the government over support for public transport in the capital underlines the need for authorities across the country to work together, he said, warning that undermining regional control of Transport for London also undermines Transport for the North and other regional transit arrangements.
The Mayor argued that the government seems intent on using the Covid-19 emergency to take more control centrally, including by attempting to unpick London government “by stealth” despite City Hall’s electoral mandate and the overwhelming support for London-wide government in the 1998 referendum preceding the establishment of the Greater London Authority.
This is a crucial time for governance, Khan said, in a rallying cry for more local power and control over resources. “Our country needs a total reset in how things are run. We all need to be ready for the battle ahead, and stand in solidarity with our colleagues across the country,”
Meanwhile the capital is looking to the future, through the work of City Hall’s London Recovery Board and its nine “missions” for the city’s future, Khan concluded. “My ambition remains the same, to make London a fair city, where everyone has the chance to reach their full potential. There’s a long way to go, but the foundations are in place for building a better London that truly works for everyone.”
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