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London Mayor Khan puts knife crime in the ‘too tough’ tray and takes on climate change for votes in election run-up

Damian Wilson
Damian Wilson
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
is a UK journalist, ex-Fleet Street editor, financial industry consultant and political communications special advisor in the UK and EU.
London Mayor Khan puts knife crime in the ‘too tough’ tray and takes on climate change for votes in election run-up
As the no-win row over funding in the fight against London knife crime continues, Sadiq Khan changes tack in the run-up to Mayoral elections, and chooses climate change over safer streets in a far riskier strategy to win votes.

The clock is running down on Sadiq Khan, and with just a couple of months remaining to secure a legacy of any value during the Labour Mayor’s unremarkable tenure, his dream of creating a safer London with its streets free of the scourge of knife crime is shot.

So now he’s switching his red cape for a green version and opting to save the planet, rather than the British capital’s victims of stabbings and street violence, which he is now seemingly determined to blame on central government and a police funding crisis.

In a case of totally skewed priorities, Khan is investing his time and energy in a green agenda, planning to spend £50 million on getting London carbon neutral by 2030, apparently believing the city is an island operating in isolation from the rest of the nation when it comes to traffic and pollution.

As any commuter will tell you, the impact of introducing congestion charge and low-emission zones is to drive traffic out of the centre and onto the perimeter roads which are packed to choking every day of the week.

It is a total smokescreen, though one that would be shut down in London, thanks to the Ultra Low Emission Zones the mayor has established on the roads into the capital.

Sure it’s important to have clean air, but given a chance to pick priorities, it would be hard to find a voter that would put a desire to burnish London’s green credentials above the quest for safer streets.

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Ironically, it’s the woke ambitions of the mayor that are partly to blame for landing him a bind here. At the time of the chaos which brought central London to a traffic standstill for several days last year, he both supported the Extinction Rebellion climate cause, while at the same time condemning the protestors for diverting police resources away from fighting knife crime.

What sort of confused message was that?

This fence-straddling has come back to haunt Khan, and he’s now being told the Met must pay the £24m bill for the policing the prolonged protest action. 

He was out-manoeuvered by a PM seeing an opening for a pre-election promise. Boris pledged 20,000 new officers nationwide in the run-up to the December election, putting Khan on the back foot in the crime-fighting stakes showing his reliance on help from the hated Conservative government.

Because, despite having responsibility for policing strategy and budget in London, the Mayor looks to the Home Office for funding as well. When things are rosy, he is happy to claim the credit for a well-staffed police force but when things are tough — and Home Office priorities lie elsewhere — he wails and screams that central government is wrecking his plans, forcing him to seek funding elsewhere.

This has meant increasing council tax for everyone, (up 19% in one property band since 2017-18) and upping the hated business rates that many Londoners will tell you is widely to blame for the thousands of boarded-up shops on the capital’s High Streets. 

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But Khan did have one idea. Still needing more money for the police, he turned BoJo’s promise on its head and said he would have to use the funds meant for recruitment to pay the unexpected policing bill and that it’s all the government’s fault there won’t be any more bobbies on the beat.

See a pattern here? It’s dirty local politics played with a bigger budget.

Meanwhile as the row over money rolls on interminably, every weekend brings more shocking evidence that knife crime is out of control. On Sunday night, within an hour, three men found themselves in hospital, two with critical injuries, following three separate knife attacks in just one hour. 

It’s not only gangs and it’s not stilettos and flick knives we’re looking at. There are kitchen knives, zombie knives, machetes, you name it. Since when has a knife been the must-have accessory to check before leaving the house? For me, it’s always the house keys.

While the Mayor talks the knife crime talk, you would be hard-pressed to find an ordinary Londoner who could identify how the whopping £110m poured into fighting this epidemic in this budget year has made any difference. 

One thing that has changed is that Khan understands that knife crime is about more than police numbers. 

It has become a cultural issue that has to be fought in a joined-up way at home and in school, not just by police officers doing stop and search on the street. This is acknowledged in the latest funding pledge of £55.5m to tackle the “complex causes of violent crime” of which not one penny goes to policing. 

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The complexity of the knife crime issue could be why he’s kicked this political football over the fence for now and picked up on the new game in town: climate change and the green debate.

But if he thinks this new issue, couched in terms of emission zones, traffic reduction and carbon targets is a vote winner, the Mayor should think again because these ideas annoy many Londoners when put into practice. They mean inconvenience, clogged roads and proxy taxes, certainly not ballot box-friendly policies among motorists in the outer boroughs.

It must grate on Khan that his nemesis, the former Mayor of London and current PM, was the architect of the simplest, greenest legacy scheme which will forever bear his name in the nation’s capital, no matter its corporate sponsor or the mayors that follow — the omnipresent Boris Bike.

Even City Hall is known widely as Ken’s Egg, recalling its ovoid shape and Mayor Livingstone, its first occupant.

In contrast to his predecessors, an increasingly desperate Sadiq Khan faces the very real prospect of seeing his tenure consigned to the footnotes of history once he leaves office. And he knows it.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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