1. Governance
May 16, 2016

“Learn from other mayors”, and four other tips for Sadiq Khan

By Nicola Hughes

Sadiq Khan won a healthy mandate in the London mayoral election and is now getting to grips with his new role – notwithstanding that-awkward-transition-moment where your timeline still has your predecessor’s tweets all over it. He has already made advances on some of his policies, hoping for an early quick win with his “hopper-fares” idea, due to be implemented by September, and responding positively to the campaign to erect a Suffragette statue in London.

But the skills politicians need to govern effectively are very different to those needed on the campaign trail. Khan, who was communities minister and then transport minister in Gordon Brown’s government, has made some big pledges. To deliver now he needs to turn those promises into plans.

There is little understanding of what it really means to do the mayoral job well, both in the capital and elsewhere. To start the ball rolling, here are five top tips.


Effective political leaders are those who “have a small number of clear objectives and pursue them”, rather than letting becoming distracted by external events.

Khan made housing his number one issue in the campaign; to follow through in power, he must turn the rhetoric into reality with well-defined objectives and a clear roadmap for getting there, then relentlessly stick to his goal.

Learn from other mayors

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Although their powers are often more wide ranging than those of the London mayor, there are plenty of innovative city mayors in other countries that Khan can look to for ideas. Take Martin O’Malley, who as mayor of Baltimore oversaw a big fall in the city’s murder rate and sought to improve public services through his open data programmes.   

At home, Khan can also join forces with the other metro mayors to form an effective counter to Whitehall, demanding necessary powers for their cities to help achieve the stated aims of the devolution agenda.

Use soft power

The mayor of London has some budgetary and policy making power in housing, crime and transport.

But in areas where he doesn’t have strong levers he can convene and influence – for example bringing together relevant businesses, charities and delivery agencies to pursue an agenda.  The mayor of London post is high profile; Khan can use this platform to advocate, something Boris Johnson has done well, and have influence beyond his formal role. 

Pay attention to the politics

Khan will need to build productive relationships with the London Assembly members who will be scrutinising his mayoralty, and with council leaders, government departments and Parliament as a whole.

Many of these actors will be of different political stripes to Khan.  However George Osborne and the Treasury have proved keen to work with Labour city leaders on issues where they align – such as devolution of economic powers – so there may be common ground.

Manage your team

Khan will want to appoint a team that gives him the right mix of skills and expertise, with juniors he is comfortable delegating responsibility for policy implementation to. Experienced hands like ex-transport minister Andrew Adonis and Neale Coleman, who has worked for Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson, have been tipped for roles.  

Like effective ministers, effective mayors should be “good at generating a good culture within the department in which the people who work in the department feel proud… and feel appreciated for what they do”. 

It’s been eight years since City Hall saw a regime change and the transition may take time – but that’s one thing mayor Khan has plenty of right now. He also has the advantage of a clear mandate from the people of London, and should use that to help him govern effectively.  

Nicola Hughes is senior researcher at the Institute for Government.

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