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Last Friday, Sadiq Khan received the most votes for any individual politician in British political history – 1,310,143. As Mayor of London he now clearly has an impressive mandate, and with it political clout, influence and visibility that goes far beyond his formal powers or even the city boundaries. To succeed in delivering his vision for London, he will need to use this mandate to influence policy beyond his formal powers, building alliances and finding common ground with stakeholders across the city.
Over the course of the last two months, we conducted a series of interviews with the Livingstone and Johnson administrations’ top teams, and our briefing based on those conversations highlighted how some of the highest profile successes from both Mayors were achieved in areas that stretched beyond their formal portfolio or statutory responsibilities. For example Mayor Livingstone challenged the Labour Government’s Public Private Partnership for the Tube and Mayor Johnson used the office to resist the expansion of Heathrow and ‘banker bashing regulation’ for the City’s financial firms.
Given that the majority of London’s funding continues to be negotiated with central Government, and Mayor Khan’s policies need to be implemented through the boroughs, capitalising on the broader mandate of the Mayor remains key. It is therefore promising that Mayor Khan has used his first few speeches to show that he is open to form alliances across political divides, both ‘upwards’ to Whitehall and ‘downwards’ to boroughs, in order to get things done. This will be particularly crucial to meet his manifesto pledges regarding house building, where planning permissions are granted by the boroughs and must adhere to regulations set in the National Planning Policy Framework.
In many ways, such relationships will be even more important for the 2017 cohort of directly elected mayors across England’s other major city regions. They will have fewer powers (relative to local council leaders) than the Mayor of London, and the scale of the mandate will also be smaller than in London – both in the overall number of voters and the ratio between metro mayor votes and local councillor votes.
Yet our new polling across the five biggest city regions with devolution deals showed that even though four of the five top priorities residents have for their city will not be directly under the control of the mayor, the public do want them to be taking the lead on the big decisions affecting their area, and having more decision making powers than local council leaders.
We know from the evolution of the London mayoralty that even with a limited set of formal powers, mayors can make a big difference, and that doing so helps to build institutional capacity at the city region level, allowing for further devolution over time. The 2017 mayors will need to use their influence and build similar relationships to meet the expectations of the electorate and to get things done.
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