This year was an incredibly challenging time for local government right across the country – on the front line of the pandemic, leading and delivering for our communities and working hard to keep our residents safe. And in the middle of this, we’ve had one of the strangest elections in my lifetime.
Local elections are always complicated: apathy is high and turn out is low. But this year was more complicated than usual. Social distancing meant traditional methods of campaigning and voting have been difficult and, while some voters chose to utilise a postal ballot, many chose to stay at home. And who can blame them? We are still amidst a global, deadly pandemic.
In London, the race to be the next mayor saw some interesting and challenging characters – some more serious than others – set out their vision for London over the next three years; a period which will help determine the way we respond to the pandemic, oversee economic recovery, Brexit, a rise in crime, and the multitude of other issues our Capital faces.
The election itself wasn’t the most inspiring of elections. The other candidates failed to gain momentum and campaigning during a pandemic made the whole affair feel very flat. But importantly, Sadiq ran a strong campaign on a platform of policies that will help get London back on its feet and backed by five successful years in office. The Conservative candidate, Shaun Bailey – the only other candidate with a chance of winning – barely gained traction.
While many regional authorities have directly elected mayors, London’s mayoralty has unique significance. City Hall is one of the most influential authorities in Europe. It has vast and significant powers and has very real consequences for the everyday lives of millions of people across our Capital.
So, Sadiq has won, with a resounding majority and clear mandate: but what does this victory mean for London?
With the vaccine rollout continuing at pace, the first and most obvious challenge for him, like all leaders, will be economic recovery. Some parts of London’s economy will largely go back to normal, returning from an artificial hibernation. But others will take much longer. London is a global city, and it looks like it will be disconnected from the world a little while longer. So, Sadiq will be laser focused on reviving our city, supporting our outstanding hospitality, night-time, retail, culture and creative sectors to recover from the devastating impacts of the pandemic.
But beyond the economic recovery, Sadiq will start thinking about the impact he personally will leave on the city and how he can best position it as a city of the future – in other words, his legacy. His time as mayor has seen a real focus on longer term ambitions – particularly around the environment; tackling air quality; and the climate emergency; further cementing London as a progressive, forward thinking global leader.
We have already seen an unprecedented investment in cycling infrastructure and the implementation of ULEZ which has transformed the air quality across the city. In his manifesto, Sadiq has promised us a Green New Deal, with cleaner air, improved open spaces, green jobs and tackling climate change at its heart, including extending the ULEZ in October 2021. If he succeeds, as I expect him to, he will be the Mayor of London who transformed the world’s greatest city, leaving it cleaner and greener, for the next generation.
While bashing London is ‘in vogue’ these days, the reality is that London is the engine of growth for the entire country and has global reach. When London prospers, we all do. With the Conservative’s having all but abandoned any hope of regaining London politically – a strategy clearly meant to grow their appeal in other parts of the country – so too have they abandoned any intention to invest in the Capital. A path that only leads to levelling London down, not levelling other regions up.
In short, London is on its own, and Sadiq’s in our corner.