What is the point of Sadiq Khan, London’s Labour Mayor, recently reelected for a second term? He is a powerful symbol of inclusion – a Muslim bus-driver’s son making it to the city’s highest office. After that I struggle. He has acheived little in five years. But now he has an opportunity to make his mark.
Mr Khan’s problems aren’t entirely of his own making. Since his predecessor as mayor, Boris Johnson, took over as Prime Minister in 2019 the national government has been actively hostile. We then discover how little actual power London’s mayoralty has. The situation worsened when the pandemic came along, and Transport for London’s finances collapsed. This one of the few things the mayor is responsible for, but he had to go cap in hand to the government for a bailout. In doing so the government has gone out of its way to humiliate him. Mr Khan has looked like a powerless bleater from the sidelines. But this also reflects Mr Khan’s lack of political skill. He has shown little aptitude in mobilising broad political coalitions to get things done.
But now he has an opportunity: the Daniel Morgan report. This report into the Metropolitan Police was commissioned by Theresa May as Home Secretary in 2013. It looks at the Met’s repeated failings in the case of the murder of Daniel Morgan, a private investigator, in 1987. It was suspected that corrupt policemen were involved. The report is summarised here by the FT’s David Allen Green. It is shocking. It shows the Met as being keener to protect its reputation than to be held accountable. This culture is described as “institutional corruption”. And the report makes it plain that it stretches to the present day, with the inquiry being obstructed by senior police officers, who were as slow as they could be in producing evidence. What is even more significant is that the current Commissioner, Cressida Dick, is deeply implicated in this criticism. Ms Dick is every inch a Met insider, with her fingerprints on numerous police foulups. It is time for her to go and for an outsider to be brought in to replace her. The Met needs a change in management culture and she is n ot the person to do it.
Mr Johnson is not going to support this, and has expressed his confidence in Ms Dick. He is not in favour of public accountability, and likes senior public officials to be beholden to him. He is not directly responsible for appointing or dismissing the Commissioner, though. That is a matter of joint responsibility between the Home Secretary, currently Priti Patel, and the Mayor. Will Ms Patel stand up to her boss? She probably could if she wanted too, as she is one the politically stronger members of the government (whatever one thinks of her record). It is unlikely though. Which leaves Sadiq Khan as mayor.
I doubt that the Mayor has the legal power to sack the Commissioner by himself – but a public statement of loss of confidence would make her position untenable. That would allow him to show that he is standing up to the bullying from government and asserting his new mandate from London voters. There is a risk that Ms Dick could try toughing it out based on Ms Patel’s backing alone – that would be sadly characteristic of the current times. In which case the mayor would need to up the ante and start making the government, and the Force, pay a price. This is what politicians can do. Authority depends on much more than just legal powers.
So it is clear what Sadiq Khan should do. But I expect him to bottle it and serve out the rest of his term as another act of futlity and pointlessness.