London can do better: a review of Our London by Sadiq Khan

The shadow London minister's book sets out the policies required to prevent the capital becoming an ever-more divided city.

London is one of the greatest cities on earth. The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games showed London at its best. The Games were, for many Londoners, the proudest moment in recent British history. London is a diverse, dynamic and youthful city, with a vibrant community and an impressive arts and cultural scene.

But like many large cities worldwide, London has its share of problems – overcrowding, child poverty, unemployment and homelessness – to name a few. Poverty and inequality are growing. The jobless rate in my constituency, Bethnal Green and Bow, remains among the highest in the country, and many are struggling to make ends meet. The cost of living crisis is leaving many Londoners behind and our booming population is putting unprecedented strain on our transport and infrastructure.

It will take bold and decisive action to tackle these problems to build a better city over the next decade. In his new book, Our London, published by the Fabian Society, Labour’s shadow London minister, Sadiq Khan MP, sets out ambitious and exciting ideas for how Labour can make the capital a better city for Londoners.

It’s encouraging to read about innovative ideas for London’s future. Our mayoral system means that elections disappointingly look more like a beauty pageant than a battle of competing visions for our city. With consecutive elections for London councils, Westminster and the mayoralty over the next three years, Labour must ensure this does not happen again. 

Sadiq has brought together leading experts including Andrew Adonis on transport, Doreen Lawrence on equality, Jenny Jones on the environment and Tony Travers on the powers of London Government to get to the heart of the major challenges that London faces. It is refreshing to see a leading politician encouraging debate on a crucial issue that affects the lives of some eight million Londoners.

This book contains many interesting ideas. A London minimum wage to match our higher cost of living; free school meals for all children; more powers and financial freedom devolved from Whitehall to City Hall and Town Halls; restarting the'‘London Challenge' to make all our schools outstanding (something which along with exceptional leadership by teachers saw record improvement of schools in my borough over the past decade); strategic planning for the NHS across London; and a new infrastructure programme to build more roads, bridges, tunnels and train lines.

I am delighted that in his foreword for the book, Ed Miliband says that Labour will consider these ideas as we plan our manifesto for 2015; if even just a few of these ideas are picked up, it could vastly improve the lives of millions of Londoners.

As an MP for a London constituency which has high levels of inequality and deprivation, Sadiq’s chapter in which he outlines our plans to tackle London’s housing crisis is particularly striking.  Week in week out, I meet people who have to live at home well into their thirties and even forties. Overcrowding occurs at a distressing level. Buying a house in London is increasingly an unaffordable dream for all but the wealthiest. Sadiq’s plans to make renting more affordable and secure and improve standards in the rented sector could radically change lives in my constituency and would put ‘affordable housing’ back into the reach of ordinary Londoners.

Our London is a must read for everyone concerned about our capital’s future. It shows that Labour is most powerful when encouraging debate rather than closing it down. It shows that we can achieve more change when working together. It shows that we can be ambitious for the scale of change we want to achieve, even during a time of tightened finances. I hope that this book does kick-start a conversation about the future of our city. London can and must do better than it is and we must all work to ensure it doesn't become a divided city that squeezes out most people from the city apart from the wealthy. 

Our London is edited by Sadiq Khan and published by the Fabian Society. You can download a copy here.

The river Thames seen from Tower Bridge at night, with the Shard skyscraper on the left and the City of London on the right. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rushanara Ali is Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow and shadow international development minister.

Getty
Show Hide image

How Labour risks becoming a party without a country

Without establishing the role of Labour in modern Britain, the party is unlikely ever to govern again.

“In my time of dying, want nobody to mourn

All I want for you to do is take my body home”

- Blind Willie Johnson

The Conservative Party is preparing itself for a bloody civil war. Conservative MPs will tell anyone who wants to know (Labour MPs and journalists included) that there are 100 Conservative MPs sitting on letters calling for a leadership contest. When? Whenever they want to. This impending war has many reasons: ancient feuds, bad blood, personal spite and enmity, thwarted ambition, and of course, the European Union.

Fundamentally, at the heart of the Tory war over the European Union is the vexed question of ‘What is Britain’s place in the World?’ That this question remains unanswered a quarter of a century after it first decimated the Conservative Party is not a sign that the Party is incapable of answering the question, but that it has no settled view on what the correct answer should be.

The war persists because the truth is that there is no compromise solution. The two competing answers are binary opposites: internationalist or insular nationalist, co-habitation is an impossibility.

The Tories, in any event, are prepared to keep on asking this question, seemingly to the point of destruction. For the most part, Labour has answered this question: Britain will succeed as an outward looking, internationalist state. The equally important question facing the Labour Party is ‘What is the place of the Labour Party in modern Britain?’ Without answering this question, Labour is unlikely to govern ever again and in contrast to the Tories, Labour has so far refused to acknowledge that such a question is being asked of it by the people it was founded to serve. At its heart, this is a question about England and the rapidly changing nature of the United Kingdom.

In the wake of the 2016 elections, the approach that Labour needs to take with regard to the ‘English question’ is more important than ever before. With Scotland out of reach for at least a generation (assuming it remains within the United Kingdom) and with Labour’s share of the vote falling back in Wales in the face of strong challenges from Plaid Cymru and UKIP, Labour will need to rely upon winning vast swathes of England if we are to form a government in 2020.

In a new book published this week, Labour’s Identity Crisis, Tristram Hunt has brought together Labour MPs, activists and parliamentary candidates from the 2015 general election to explore the challenges facing Labour in England and how the party should address these, not purely as an electoral device, but as a matter of principle.

My contribution to the book was inspired by Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti. The track list reads like the score for a musical tragedy based upon the Labour Party from 2010 onwards: In My Time of Dying, Trampled Underfoot, Sick Again, Ten Years Gone. 

Continued Labour introspection is increasingly tiresome for the political commentariat – even boring – and Labour’s Identity Crisis is a genuinely exciting attempt to swinge through this inertia. As well as exploring our most recent failure, the book attempts to chart the course towards the next Labour victory: political cartography at its most urgent.

This collection of essays represents an overdue effort to answer the question that the Party has sought to sidestep for too long.  In the run up to 2020, as the United Kingdom continues to atomise, the Labour Party must have an ambitious, compelling vision for England, or else risks becoming a party without a country.

Jamie Reed is Labour MP for Copeland.