No left turn for London's new mayor

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Image: Facebook/Sadiq Khan

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Everyone on the left is bound to welcome Sadiq Khan's clear victory over Tory Zac Goldsmith to become London's new mayor in succession to Boris Johnson. Khan took 44 per cent of the vote to Goldsmith's 35 per cent, ending eight years of Tory rule at city hall.

The population of London is one of the most ethnically diverse in the world, with 44 per cent of the city's 8.6 million people from minority backgrounds. The election of a Muslim bus-driver's son who grew up on a council estate as mayor is fitting testimony to that, and also a welcome riposte to the racist campaign waged by the Tories.

Goldsmith is a Tory toff masquerading as an "environmentalist." The greenwash did not survive falling poll ratings, as Goldsmith and his minders attempted to brand Khan as some sort of "soft on terrorism" appeaser -- a charge based, it seems, on the fact that during his time as a human rights lawyer he sometimes shared platforms with "extremists." Khan's election, then, was a victory for anti-racism and multiculturalism.

It should also have been an effective answer to the New Labour "Bitterites" -- the unreconstructed Blairites who still dominate the Labour benches in parliament. Stunned by the election of socialist Jeremy Corbyn to the leadership of the Labour Party last summer, they have spent the year since carping in public and plotting in private.

Corbyn's demise greatly exaggerated

They wanted Labour to tank in the local elections to give them a pretext for mounting an anti-Corbyn coup. Instead, Labour did very well in London, okay elsewhere, and only got a real hammering in Scotland. Predictably, the Bitterites tell us that where Labour does well it is despite Corbyn, and where it does badly because of Corbyn. Neither is true.

Khan is a right-winger. He distanced himself from Corbyn during the election and has launched veiled attacks on the party leader since, proclaiming that Labour needs to return to the Blair model if it is to win a general election (I am not making this up: yes, the Blair model).

This will have had minimal impact on the election. Most people don't read the small print when they vote. The fact is that London is a left-wing city, and it voted left without a blink, knowing that Labour had a socialist leader.

In Scotland, on the other hand, Labour is in terminal decline because the Blairites have wrecked the party. The Scottish National Party is now the party of the working class north of the border, with a clear anti-austerity, anti-privatisation, anti-war message that places it -- rhetorically at least -- well to the left of Labour. In Scotland, the problem is the Blair legacy, not the Corbyn surge.

So, let's be clear: Khan's victory is to be welcomed for what it tells us about the mood of the electorate. But that is all. Khan is a neoliberal technocrat virtually indistinguishable on all substantive issues from the rest of the political and corporate elite.

Asked after his election what the Blairites should do about Corbyn, Khan's answer was to say, "It is more a question of what Jeremy should be doing. If you are a leader, you want to use all your talents."

And his plans for London? "My challenge is over the next few months and years to hopefully show the rest of the country that Labour administrations can be pro-business, Labour administrations can be competent, Labour administrations can provide value for money."

This, of course, is Tory language. It is code for neoliberalism. For "pro-business," read pro-corporate power. For "competent," read free market. For "value for money," read cuts. Khan is talking the language of privatization, of the debt economy, of soaring rents and house prices, of the relentless hoovering of wealth to the top.

One vaguely meaningful campaign promise was to build 50,000 homes, half of them "affordable," to address the housing crisis.

(Why not all of them "affordable"? Why build any more houses for the rich and the middle class? But let's leave that aside.) Within a week of being elected, Khan has ditched this policy, claiming the Tories have "left the cupboard bare."

Let us put this into some sort of context. Humanity faces an existential crisis with economic, social, geopolitical, and environmental dimensions. We are in the coils of a debt-based global system that transfers so much wealth upwards that the 63 richest people -- the occupants of a double-decker bus -- now control as much wealth as the poorest 50 per cent of the world's people. The international order is being torn apart by imperialism, war and economic breakdown. The planet is on the brink of catastrophic climate change.

Consider one impact of this on one city: housing in London. The average monthly rent is now about £1,500, and the average house price above £500,000. Young people are paying half, even two-thirds, of their meagre incomes on rent and most have zero chance of ever getting on what used to be called "the housing ladder." They face the prospect of a lifetime paying rip-off rents for that most basic of human needs: somewhere to live.

I could go on. But what is the point? Everyone knows that we are in the throes of a world-wide social crisis. Everyone knows that the political and corporate elite are "all in it together." Everyone knows we are all getting screwed to enrich the one per cent, and that identikit career technocrats like Khan do nothing.

The new London mayor has already made clear what side he's on. London won't be getting the tens of thousands of new homes it needs to begin to address the growing housing crisis. The rich will continue to rake it in under the new "pro-business" administration at City Hall. 

Neil Faulkner is an active member of the Labour Party and the author of A Marxist History of the World: from Neanderthals to Neoliberals. 

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Image: Facebook/Sadiq Khan

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