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17 August 2015

London needs a strong Mayor – that’s why I’m backing Sadiq Khan

Veteran London MP and former Cabinet minister Chris Smith, now Baron Smith of Finsbury, explains why he's backing Sadiq Khan to be Labour's mayoral candidate. 

By Chris Smith

For 22 years I had the privilege of representing Islington South and Finsbury in Parliament. During 14 of those years, London lacked any form of city-wide Government. I wouldn’t ever wish to return to those days when London lacked the political leadership it deserves as a truly global city. 

I was in Parliament when the Tories abolished the GLC, and we fought literally night and day to try and stop them.  As a result of the abolition, London and Londoners simply didn’t have a strong voice. There was nobody in charge of running transport and planning, no one prioritising the city’s housing, economic and cultural needs. Instead it was fragmented across 32 boroughs or done from a desk in Whitehall. 

I’m proud of being a Cabinet Minister in the 1997 Labour Government that rectified this mistake. On our watch, we created the Greater London Assembly and gave the city a directly elected Mayor. And it’s proved to be a great success.  Each of the two mayors we’ve had to date have certainly stamped their mark in their own way. Especially Ken! 

We’ve seen new transport investments like Crossrail, the successful development of the Overground, the modernising of the tube and a far more efficient bus service.  We’ve seen the bike scheme – Ken’s idea, but hijacked with Boris’s name!  And we saw the leading role the Mayor played in bringing the Olympics to London.  Most importantly, perhaps, the Mayor has been able to play a role representing London across the world – and this will become increasingly important for a Labour Mayor at a time when Britain is represented by a Tory Government.   

I certainly wouldn’t want to go back to the days without a Mayor. But, at the same time, for Londoners to benefit the most from this strong system, it needs a Mayor with a purpose, who sees the role as about leadership and shaping the city into something better.  That’s why I believe Sadiq Khan would be the very best choice we could make. 

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London is the greatest, the most diverse, the most culturally rich, the most vibrant city in the world.  But despite all the positives, London still faces some enormous challenges. A lack of affordable homes, appalling air quality and young people out of work and lacking in the skills and confidence to prosper. Levels of inequality in a city as rich as London is an international disgrace. 

So we need a Mayor who’ll put tackling inequality at the top of their list of priorities. Who’ll ensure the homes Londoners need and can afford to buy and rent get built.  And who’ll take the difficult decisions that will clean up our choking air.  These are the issues close to my heart as a Londoner, and as someone who has fought for decades to help make this city the progressive place it can and should be. 

What we don’t want is more of the same.  The current incumbent has approached the role of Mayor as if it’s a part-time job.  It isn’t, and shouldn’t be.  He’s been far too accommodating to the big developers, and hasn’t put truly affordable housing at the top of the priority list. He’s been captured by people with pet projects.  And he hasn’t stood up for Londoners – instead he’s stood up for the powerful and rich. 

In stark contrast, Sadiq Khan is Labour’s best candidate to stand up for Londoners. He has shown himself a great campaigner leading Labour in London to the best local election results in over 40 years and gaining 7 seats at the General Election. He’s got the solutions we need to address the city’s problems and to start fixing them. 

Perhaps above all I want someone who will defend, protect, and enhance the diverse nature of our city.  As a strong defender of civil liberties and someone who’s got a long track record in taking on discrimination in all its forms, Sadiq has got just the credentials our tolerant and open city needs in its Mayor.  But more than that, he’ll be a Mayor who doesn’t just tolerate or accept diversity – he will celebrate and champion it. 

And I’m confident he’ll sustain London’s vibrant arts and culture scene. Sadiq is the candidate who’ll defend free admissions to the city’s major museums and galleries. I’m proud to have brought this into being in my time as Culture Secretary – it’s something that’s widened access to communities who wouldn’t otherwise have been able to visit these places where as a nation we store our history, our memories, our science, and the things of beauty we’ve treasured across the generations.  

Sadiq has shown himself capable of bringing together communities, businesses, local Boroughs, voluntary groups and trade unions from across London to tackle the city’s problems.  London is changing and fast and Sadiq understands this.  He gets what makes the city tick. 

He’ll bring this same spirit of togetherness to City Hall and I urge everyone to use their vote wisely and support Sadiq.  He’s the Labour candidate to deliver a modern Mayor for a modern city. 

Lord Chris Smith of Finsbury was the Labour MP for Islington South and Finsbury between 1983 and 2005, was Britain’s first openly gay MP, and was Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport from 1997-2001.    


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