OPINION - A Labour government is no guarantee of more money for City Hall

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Sadiq Khan was in fine form this morning, and who can blame him? Elected Mayor of London for a third time and on an increased share of the vote, the bloke had earned a curtain call.

There were jokes suggesting the prime minister was "on something" (for arguing the UK was on course for a hung parliament) and even fashion statements (he wore a fetching green suit tailored for him by Percival in Hackney, and by Francesco’s in Berwick Street, Soho). But one thing he said in particular piqued my interest:

“There is the really exciting prospect of having a Labour government to work with. I think working with a Labour government can be transformative.”

One of the in-built challenges of devolution is that it frequently pits politicians – each with their own mandate – against one another. Since his first day in office, Khan has been forced to operate under a Conservative government that does not necessarily view his political successes as a priority.

Relations have reached a number of lows in the last few years, perhaps best evidenced by tortuous negotiations between City Hall and Whitehall over bailouts for Transport for London during the pandemic, always accompanied by a war of words and shifting of blame. Little wonder the mayor is looking forward to working with a likely Labour government.

But while correspondence will no doubt be warmer between Khan and a Keir Starmer-led Downing Street, there are reasons to be sceptical that billions of pounds will suddenly start flowing eastward from Westminster to City Hall.

First, this is not a Labour government that will be flush with cash. Rachel Reeves may not be Jeremy Hunt, but she will be operating under the same fiscal constraints as chancellor, albeit with different priorities (such as not pretending to one day abolish national insurance contributions.

Second, London having a Labour mayor is not special. In fact, 12 of the 13 metro mayors are now Labour held. That's a lot of Labour politicians making representations to a Labour government which involve requests for money. Expect plenty of 'noes' in response, even if Reeves will be more polite about it.

Case in point: speaking this morning, Khan vowed further action on clean air, including a “100 per cent zero emission bus fleet by 2030”. Sounds good, but as our City Hall editor Ross Lydall notes, it cannot happen without substantial government investment.

Third, it is an unproven assumption at this point that a Labour government would be more sympathetic towards the capital than the current administration. While 'Levelling up' is likely to disappear as a phrase and a plaque on a department, the desire to funnel more money into the north and midlands is something of a cross-party consensus.

Finally – and this may shock you – but sometimes elected representatives from the same party, even the same wing of the party, don't always get on, particularly when they enjoy independent mandates. Recall, it was less than a year ago that Starmer somewhat threw Khan under the bus (zero emission or otherwise), following the Uxbridge and South Ruislip by-election, when the Labour leader suggested that the party was "doing something very wrong" if the policies it put forward (in this case, Ulez extension) "end up on each and every Tory leaflet."

But these are problems for another day. For now, Khan can take comfort in the fact that he is undoubtedly one of the most electorally successful Labour figures this century, with the largest personal mandate in the country.

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