09 May 2016

After a long and at times fractious campaign, Sadiq Khan has been elected Mayor of London. Now the hard work begins. Nicola Hughes explores what’s in store for the new Mayor.

As we’ve noted previously, the skills politicians need to govern effectively are very different to those needed on the campaign trail. Khan, who has the experience of being Communities Minister and then Transport Minister in Gordon Brown’s government to draw from, has pledged to tackle London’s housing crisis, freeze transport fares and develop the London economy. To deliver on these goals he now needs to turn manifesto promises into implementable plans. Khan will also need to get his head around the role itself and the administrative processes behind the scenes at City Hall.

With plans in place for more metro mayors across England in 2017, now is a good time to consider what skills are needed to be an effective mayor, both in the capital and elsewhere. Here are some suggestions:

  • Prioritise. As we found in our Ministers Reflect series, effective political leaders are those who “have a small number of clear objectives and pursue them” rather than letting the ‘machine’ take over, or becoming distracted by external events. Khan has made housing his number one issue in the campaign; he must now turn rhetoric into reality with well-defined objectives and a clear roadmap, then relentlessly stick to his goal.
  • Learn from, and collaborate, with other mayors. Although their powers are often more wide-ranging than those of the London Mayor, there are plenty of innovative city mayors in other countries that Khan can look to for ideas. One example is Martin O’Malley, who as Mayor of Baltimore oversaw a big fall in the city’s murder rate and sought to improve public services through his open data programmes. At home, Khan can also join forces with the other metro mayors to form an effective counter to Whitehall, demanding necessary powers for their cities to help achieve the stated aims of the devolution agenda.
  • Use soft power as well as formal levers. The Mayor of London has some budgetary and policymaking power in housing, crime and transport, but in areas where he doesn’t have strong levers to pull he can convene and influence – for example bringing together relevant businesses, charities and delivery agencies to pursue an agenda. The Mayor of London post is high-profile; Khan can use this platform to advocate, something Boris Johnson has done well and Nicola Sturgeon has been adept at in Scotland, and have influence beyond his formal, constitutional role.
  • Pay attention to the politics. Many former ministers regret not spending enough time in Parliament: networking, promoting their agenda and staying connected to party business. Khan will need to build productive relationships with the London Assembly members who will be scrutinising his mayoralty, and with council leaders, government departments and Parliament as a whole. Many of these people will be of different political stripes to Khan and to complicate matters further they may – between now and June at least – clash over Brexit. However, George Osborne and the Treasury have proved keen to work with Labour city leaders on issues where they align – such as devolution of economic powers – so there may be common ground.
  • Manage your team. The Greater London Authority is a not a big organisation – it has just under 800 members of staff – while most of the delivery is done by bodies like Transport for London. The Mayor can also appoint his own team of 12 Deputy Mayors and advisers: Khan will want to appoint a team that gives him the right mix of skills and expertise, with juniors he is comfortable delegating responsibility for policy implementation to. Like effective ministers, effective mayors should be “good at generating a good culture within the department in which the people who work in the department feel proud… and feel appreciated for what they do” – it’s been eight years since City Hall saw a regime change, and the transition may take time.

With new London-style metro mayors due to be elected in 2017 across the country, the Institute will be doing more work over the coming year to understand and promote effective mayoral leadership.