23 February 2019
London's new mayor Sadiq Khan is already beginning to disappoint many of his supporters. Photo: Reuters
London's new mayor Sadiq Khan is already beginning to disappoint many of his supporters. Photo: Reuters

New London mayor struggling to keep election promises

London’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan, made three promises in his election campaign but he is having difficulty fulfilling them.

Public transport in London is the world’s most expensive after a sharp rise in prices under his predecessor, Boris Johnson.

It costs US$4 for each trip on the public transport system, the third most expensive after Copenhagen and Stockholm.

That compares with US$2.90 in New York, US$2 in Paris and US$1.30 in Hong Kong.

Khan vowed to freeze public transport fares for four years to ensure residents “won’t pay a penny more”.

“No ifs, no buts”, he said.

Now he is being accused of breaking that promise less than two months into the job.

London’s public transport involves private and public operators, which are not directly regulated by the government.

These companies strongly oppose Khan’s fare freeze plan.

The plan calls for a freeze on the price of single-journey tickets.

That means privately run public transport such as suburban railways and buses can still raise prices.

Also, Khan said last week that the freeze would not extend to season tickets.

That’s because these involve travel on trains run by private companies, which are regulated by the government but not by Transport for London, a local government body responsible for the transport system in Greater London.

Most London people who buy season tickets will continue to face rising fares in coming years.

Khan’s second promise is to build 80,000 homes a year – a fairly bold target.

London built 24,000 homes last year for its 8.6 million residents, about the same population as Hong Kong.

By comparison, Hong Kong’s annual home construction is about 40,000.

Khan is having trouble finding land to build homes, not unlike Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

Khan’s campaign website shows a target of at least 80,000 new homes a year but he insists he has never set a specific target and does not intend to.

Instead, the Labor mayor said he does not have a yearly target and is instead focused on “building affordable homes for Londoners”.

Khan also promised to veto any extension to Metropolitan Police chief Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe’s contract.

Bernard has stirred up public outcry for his handling of protests and minorities.

But Hogan-Howe does not report to the London mayor but to a Home Office committee of which the mayor is just one member.

The Metropolitan Police headquarters, also known as Scotland Yard, is tasked with fighting terrorism and protecting the capital city, the royal family and top political leaders.

The iron-fisted Sir Bernard is very likely to keep his job given that many countries in Europe have been targeted by terrorist attacks.

Khan has softened his stance, saying changing the Metropolitan Police chief is not his top priority right now.

Most politicians are good at breaking promises.

Khan, Britain’s new political star, is already beginning to disappoint many of his own supporters.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 8

Translation by Julie Zhu

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal columnist

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