Don’t start me on Covid.
We face another month of sustained trashing of our economy and our children’s futures, when all the evidence suggests we should be telling people over 80 to stay at home and everyone else to avoid any direct contact with elderly relatives just as you normally would if you had ‘flu.
The average age of death from Covid is 82. The number of people under 60 dying from Covid is tiny. And the damage to our economy – and our industry – will take a decade at least to repair.
But what makes me even angrier is what’s happening to our capital city. In 1992, when I became minister for transport with special responsibility for London, it was John Major’s way of recognising that although the old GLC had more policy on Nicaragua and Northern Ireland than it did on housing in Hackney and was asking to be scrapped, Thatcher’s great mistake was to assume London didn’t need anything strategic in its place.
In my nearly five years in the job, I became convinced of the need for just that sort of body and when Labour won in 1997, I persuaded my party to back the referendum and bill that gave rise to the GLA.
I stood for mayor myself because I was and am passionate about making the city a better place. In the event, Ken Livingstone won and in eight years did a brilliant job working with the Labour government.
It was he who got the Olympics to London in 2012 and who, despite his ‘Red Ken’ label, worked with developers to build a better city. Livingstone is far and away our best mayor to date.
Boris Johnson relied on his deputies, most of whom are now in No.10 or the Lords, and spent most of his time promoting Boris. Simon Milton, the former leader of Westminster who was Boris’s first brilliant chief of staff, tragically died young from cancer and was hugely missed, but his deputies generally did a good job.
Sadiq Khan has been a disaster. He clearly decided early on that he would fight the government at every opportunity and on every issue. In the process, he made enemies of every minister in the government. He seems not to have recognised that it is they who hold the purse strings – although I wish they didn’t. The mayor of London should have their own revenue raising powers, but that is an argument for another day.
In truth, by pursuing his constant attacks, Khan has shown that he is more interested in pandering to his party base than he is in making London a better city. Despite his promise of none, there have been more transport strikes than under Johnson.
He promised to plant two million trees and has actually planted very few. He has failed to meet his housing targets, has failed to prevent the upsurge in knife crime on London’s streets and failed to prevent Transport for London, the jewel in the mayoral crown, from being dependent on handouts from a government who asks itself: “Why on earth do we have to make this guy look good?”
Khan has shown he is more interested in pandering to his party than making London a better city
Khan’s response to the pandemic has been miserable. His use of frustration theory, whereby you do everything you can to irritate and delay vehicle traffic to create modal shift, has meant more air pollution, massive disruption and lengthening journey times across the whole of London and predictably achieved no discernible modal shift whatever.
Frustration theory is much loved by those on the left, who see it as an attack on the car-owning middle class, but it patently doesn’t work. It just makes people angry, screws businesses and generally makes London a less attractive city now than it has been for decades.
London these days is dull, ugly, inefficient and unattractive. At a time when the city needs to be showing what a great place it is to live and work, this is nothing short of a tragedy.
Steve Norris is chairman of Soho Estates and This Land