Amongst a rash of disastrous election results, Labour saw a glimmer of success with the re-election of Sadiq Khan as London Mayor. But this result was far from a surprise. Before the election, bookies were offering odds of 1/100 on a Khan-Labour victory.
Media coverage has focused on the idea that the result was ‘closer than expected’. But the reality is that Sadiq still trounced his Tory rival Shaun Bailey, winning 55% of the vote in the second round. And with turnout down due to the impact of the pandemic, Sadiq’s vote share was only 1.6% lower than when he beat Zac Goldsmith in 2016.
Labour’s combination of electoral success in London and other big cities, alongside its dismal defeats in so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats, is often attributed to the idea that Labour is now a party of metropolitan elites and the urban middle class.
But this narrative paints a false dichotomy – between that of an affluent south and the deprived north, disguising the very real poverty that exists across large parts of London.
Indeed, before the pandemic, poverty in the capital was higher than the rest of the country, with 28% of Londoners living in low-income households, compared with 22% in the UK overall.
London has also been hit hardest by the pandemic – both economically, and in terms of the number of deaths from the virus.
Because of London’s reliance on tourism and the service industry, the capital has lost a higher proportion of jobs than anywhere else in the country; and the number of people furloughed is 2% higher than the national average.
Meanwhile, more people in London have been infected with COVID-19, and more have died from coronavirus, than other parts of the UK: of 127,000 deaths nationally, nearly 15,000 were in the city.
The Tory government will do nothing to address these problems. Boris Johnson is intent on consolidating his ‘Red Wall’ 2019 electoral gains, while punishing working-class Londoners for their continued support for Labour, and shifting the blame for their misery onto Sadiq Khan.
The idea that the Prime Minister’s ‘levelling up’ agenda will result in any meaningful improvements to the lives of northern workers is a fantasy. But the government can posture and pretend that they support the north by starving London of investment, in an attempt to play workers in different parts of the country off against each other.
In this epoch of capitalist crises, ‘levelling up’ will really mean levelling down – with southern and northern workers alike suffering under the impact of Tory austerity and the bosses’ attacks.
London has already had a taste of what is to come with the imposition of the Tory bailout deal on Transport for London (TfL).
Last year, with TfL’s revenue plummeting as a result of the lockdown, Sadiq Khan was forced to seek emergency financial assistance from central government. But this came with strings attached, with the Tories insisting that the Mayor cut services and hike fares.
That bailout is due to expire. And with commuter traffic still only 12% of its pre-pandemic levels in some parts of central London, it is inevitable that London’s transport network will require more cash to stop it from collapsing. Just as inevitable will be the vicious austerity that the Tories will demand in exchange for this financial aid.
What will Sadiq do to stand up against these Tory attacks? If his previous record is anything to go by, the answer is very little, beyond platitudes and posturing.
In his latest manifesto, Khan promised that he would fight “to ensure the recovery brings with it more opportunities for all Londoners”.
But the pandemic hasn’t brought misery in equal measure to all Londoners. The rich are doing just fine. It is the working class, migrants, the urban poor, and the most vulnerable, who have suffered most.
These are the people who elected Sadiq, and who Labour should be standing up for.
There can be no real recovery from the pandemic for the oppressed and exploited within the confines of capitalism.
Only by waging a militant struggle against the coming tsunami of austerity – on the basis of a bold socialist programme – can Sadiq and Labour hope to undo the economic and social destruction wrought by the coronavirus crisis.
And London alone cannot win this fight. There must be a mass campaign of Labour mayors and councils across the whole country – supported by the trade unions and the wider labour movement – to refuse to implement Tory cuts.
This is the fighting stance that Labour and the unions must adopt, to defend the interests of workers everywhere.