Receive our newsletter - data-led analysis, original reporting and insights
Government / Local politics

10 lessons Sadiq Khan must learn from his predecessors’ time in office

Now that the victory celebrations are over, the hard work of running London begins. New mayor Sadiq Khan will be well aware of the scale of the challenge ahead – with the housing crisis, rising costs of living, increasing transport costs and a likely downturn in the global economy all posing a major threat to London’s status as a world class city for people to live and work in.

To hit the ground running, Khan needs to learn from the experiences of his predecessors in the role. To mark his first day in office, the Centre for Cities has published a new report, 10 lessons for the new mayor of London. It draws on the insight of some of the most senior political advisors to Ken Livingston and Boris Johnson, and sets out which approaches worked best for previous administrations, what they wish they had done better – and the pitfalls Khan should avoid.

1. Have a clear vision for London and what you want to achieve

Both Ken and Boris were consistent in articulating a vision for London as a “global city”, embracing growth and diversity. Now Khan must do the same and set out to his staff, and to Londoners more generally, his personal vision of what he wants to achieve as mayor.

2. Set out specific policy priorities to get there

To deliver on that vision, Khan needs to translate it into clear and achievable policy priorities. The sooner he can confirm these priorities, the easier it will be for his team and GLA staff to start working towards achieving them.


3. Exploit both your formal powers and electoral mandate

Khan has a number of formal mechanisms at his disposal to deliver on his agenda. These include the ability to implement his housing and infrastructure policies through the London Plan (the strategy for spatial development in the capital); and the scope to make appointments to bodies such as Transport for London.

However, he should also take advantage of his huge electoral mandate to exert wider influence, and to take decisive action to deliver on his agenda. Ken, for example, used his mandate to implement the (at the time contentious) congestion charge, while Boris used his personal influence to resist Heathrow expansion.

4. Take direct ownership for appointing senior members of your political team

To be effective, the new mayor must assemble a well-functioning team, with the right mix of political experience and administrative acumen. Given its importance, it is vital this team is appointed by, and reports directly to, Khan. At the same time, he should also seek out a wide range of views and perspectives, to avoid the kind of insularity which affected Ken’s team in its final years.

5. Be specific about your team’s responsibilities and roles

There are no formal guidelines on which powers or functions should be delegated in the mayor’s team, so Khan will need to give his Deputies clear and tangible responsibilities.

Boris, for example, set his Deputy Mayor for Police and Crime three specific targets in his second term of office – cutting the police’s budget, reducing re-offending and lowering violent crime rates – which enabled the Deputy Mayor to get on with the task immediately.

6. Choose the right Chief of Staff – they will be your most important political appointee

The chief of staff is head of the internal organisation of City Hall, and plays a vital role in filtering out the mayor needs to see and what decisions he needs to take. Khan will need to completely trust the judgement of whoever he appoints to this role.

7. Appoint Deputy Mayors for housing, transport, planning and policing…

These roles will involve considerable decision-making powers, and so will require individuals with strong background in political leadership, as opposed to people with expertise already provided by officers working within the GLA. A clear division of responsibilities between these roles will be vital to an effective Khan administration.

8. …but resist the urge to have advisors for everything

Khan might be also tempted to appoint senior advisors in other key policy areas such as health, cycling and skills. However, experience suggests he should resist the temptation to have Deputies for everything, as it could result in resources and capacity being spread too thinly, to the detriment of delivering on Khan’s policy priorities.

9. Establish a strong working relationship with the boroughs…

Khan obviously has a much bigger personal mandate and profile than his colleagues in London local government. Yet they will share responsibility for areas such as housing, planning and transport, and the mayor’s policies will be implemented by the boroughs at a local level.

It’s therefore vital that Khan develops strong working relationships with borough leaders, and a keen political understanding of when to use his powers to drive through change, and when to take a more consensual approach.

10. …and build alliances with central government

For the majority of the time that the mayoralty has been in existence, the same party running London has also been in national government. That’s not the case now, however, and so Khan needs to forge a constructive relationship with central government – which provides most of the funding for City Hall, and which will have a decisive say on any major project that Khan wants to deliver.

Four years is not long to make the kind of impact that Khan has talked about – a London for all Londoners – and he faces some tough choices ahead. But as our report shows, in a role with this kind of profile and influence, Khan can have a major impact both in London, and in wider UK politics. Taking his cue from the experiences of his predecessors will be vital in helping Khan to navigate the challenges ahead, and to make the biggest difference possible to the lives of Londoners.

Alexandra Jones is chief executive of the Centre for Cities.
This article is from the CityMetric archive: some formatting and images may not be present.