Gareth Bacon AM: ‘Press-release Mayor’ Sadiq Khan has failed to deliver on strikes

Throughout the Mayoral election campaign and since taking office, Sadiq Khan has made numerous pledges and promises that have failed to materialise.

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On housing, his ambition to build 80,000 homes a year evaporated, despite still featuring on his campaign website, and he watered down his affordable homes target from 50 per cent to 35 per cent. 

On the environment, his promise to build two million trees by 2020 never made it off the ground, with his environment team recently claiming that was never an aim.  

On policing, he recently promised to maintain the ambition of 32,000 officers – weeks before cutting £38 million from the staffing budget meaning the Met cannot afford to hit that number. 

Despite these and many more, perhaps his most outrageous broken promises have come from his transport policies. 

We all heard time and again during the election campaign that Sadiq Khan would ensure “Londoners won’t pay a penny more in 2020 than they do today” for their travel. The debate around this issue dominated much of the campaign and not once did he offer any caveats to that promise. 

However, his supposed ‘fares freeze’ has fallen farcically short of his grand promises. Whilst he brazenly admitted just weeks into his tenure that he was only freezing single and pay-as-you go TfL fares, the impact was only felt among commuters in January when their annual travelcards went up – despite leaving a £640 million black hole in TfL’s budget. 

The Mayor’s response, to shirk responsibility and blame the government, is a telling indication of the type of press-release Mayor we have inherited in our city. 

It’s a ‘say anything, deliver nothing’ approach and there is a further example of that in the way he has conducted himself over the issue of public transport strikes. 

Before the election he made the quite incredible claim that there would be ‘zero strikes’ on his watch – boasting of his ability to solve industrial disputes and lambasting his predecessor over his alleged failures in this department. 

His ludicrous pledge was broken in September when drivers on the Hammersmith and City Line walked out for 24 hours - yet Londoners received no apology or explanation as to how, despite his self-proclaimed expertise in industrial relations, the Mayor had allowed this to happen.  

In the background, the Southern Rail crisis was boiling over with repeated threats of industrial action. Given the huge impact on Londoners I publicly called on the Mayor on several occasions to intervene and urge his union friends to agree a deal with the DfT. 

My calls were dismissed out of hand – Southern Rail is not part of TfL so the Mayor said it was unreasonable to ask him to intervene. However, this did not seem to stop him from seeking to make political capital for himself by loudly condemning the train operating company and blaming the government. Whilst ordinary Londoners suffered chaotic disruption that left thousands unable to get to work and back, the Mayor went into hiding, refusing to condemn the union’s petty action. 

Sadiq Khan’s brazen approach was demonstrated further when a tube strike was called off in early December, whilst the RMT’s Southern walkout went ahead. 

He took to social media, recording a video bragging that he had averted the tube strike and again blaming the government for failing to avoid the Southern walkout.  

He also laughably bragged of a 92 per cent reduction in days lost to strikes since he became Mayor. For most politicians, it would simply seem too ridiculous to favourably compare their first six months in office in the same terms as their predecessor’s eight years – but not Mr Khan. 

Last week, the Mayor faced his biggest test on strikes as the RMT prepared a 24-hour walkout across the tube network. Unfortunately, but perhaps unsurprisingly, he failed to prevent it. 

As major disruption loomed over the weekend, Sadiq Khan decided to take to Twitter to make a show of his desire to halt the imminent chaos – urging the unions to get back around the table with his team. 

What he failed to recognise was that in making those calls he had done nothing but undermine his own staff. The Mayor is the Chairman of TfL and by suggesting he and TfL were open to further negotiation, he was conceding there was a better deal to be had. Inevitably the unions, no doubt buoyed by his words, went ahead with the strike, bringing London to a standstill. The unions have scented blood, and further strikes have been threatened  

In a tragi-comic twist during press coverage of the saga, a member of the Mayor’s press team insisted to one media outlet that the Mayor ‘retains his ambition of zero strikes’. 

Sadly, it is a prime example of the level of competence demonstrated by the Mayor and his team over the past nine months. 

If we want to see progress in London it is now so important we all look carefully at what the Mayor is promising and demand details on how he expects it to be delivered. 

Otherwise we will have another three and a half years of empty, self-publicising promises designed simply to get favourable press coverage for Sadiq Khan but end up doing nothing to improve our city.


Gareth Bacon is the London Assembly Member for Bexley and Bromley, and the leader of the GLA Conservatives.

Follow Gareth on Twitter.