This post was first published by The Croydon Citizen on 01/05/2018.
Mayor Sadiq Khan visits the People’s Republic of Croydon
Sadiq Khan arrived in Croydon at 7pm on a wet and windy night. London’s mayor is every inch the people’s politician, engaging quickly through the crowd, touching everyone and making close eye contact. At the end of the event he lingered, took part in selfie after selfie, listened, talked and hugged. This is a man confident in his own skin and his position in society.
Coming to the stage to shout his thanks to “the People’s Republic of Croydon”, to Sarah Jones, the town’s first female MP, to council leader Tony Newman, his old friend, and more than anyone to the people of Croydon for their hard work and their loyalty to his cause, he wore the mantle of the popular politician well.
On the campaign trail, his main message was naturally that the best defence against a Tory government is a local Labour council. He delivered a series of soundbites to the crowd on affordable housing, the NHS, opportunities for young people, funding cuts, rising crime rates and policing.
A spectacle of confidence, dreams and soundbites
Khan was well supported by the others on stage. Councillor David Wood held the event together, Tony Newman applauded Boxpark and expressed thanks to the venue for hosting the event. Newman also listed the areas where he felt the Labour Party had made a difference in Croydon in the last four years – areas such as the adoption of the London Living Wage and domestic abuse with the White Ribbon UK campaign, landlord licensing, the cycle network. He also hoped that one day soon Southern trains would come under the control of the Mayor of London. As if on cue, Sarah Jones then arrived slightly late (due to the trains), to stride the length of Boxpark to popular applause and to be lauded for taking the lead on issues of knife crime and school funding.
The public event was a spectacle of confidence, of dreams, of soundbites, of optimistic waiting and energy for a different future for those desperate for housing, good schooling, effective transport links, civil society and lifetime opportunities.
Prior to the event, I was able to meet with Khan and put some questions to him. He talked passionately about his ambition for youth in Croydon. He noted that young people in Croydon already knew of those who had achieved in the borough, and through organisations such as the BRIT School and Croydon’s tech hub, the borough offered great opportunities. Khan stated that through his Young Londoners Fund of £45 million, he is trying to target girls and BME youngsters in particular to take advantage of careers advice and mentoring programmes. He emphasised that the young must realise that they are competing against the world, but that if they have the skills, there are amazing opportunities in London.
Khan acknowledged the challenges of Croydon’s cash-starved local council
Khan also spoke of his ambitions for Croydon’s cultural quarter and how excited he was by investment in venues for young people to develop. When challenged over how Croydon Council is cash starved by central government, he acknowledged these challenges but his response was that the only way to halt the neglect of our major cities is to support a new Labour government.
Assured, professional and a consummate performer, I could not help feel as I watched the mayor address the crowd that I was watching a national leader in waiting. Boxpark makes a great stage, but Khan must have his eyes on a far larger one.