Ahead of tomorrow's Mayoral election, we asked Labour candidate Sadiq Khan on his views on the city's future.
There's a housing crisis, music venues are closing by the dozen, and the cost of living is driving young people out. Do you think London is losing its soul?
‘The easy answer is yes. We are the greatest city in the world, but we’re changing and I think we’re changing for the worse. One of the things that makes London great is our heritage. I want to be saying to developers: “Yes you can build a certain number of homes, but you’ve got to make sure half are genuinely affordable. I want you to also prioritise art studios, or a community centre, or a music venue, or a GP practice.” That way we can have a community. I don’t think London will ever lose its soul while there are Londoners here.’
But can you build homes without pushing people out and forcing venues to close? Can you really do anything in the face of big-money investment?
‘We shouldn’t say no to investment in London. What I want to say no to is homes being sold off-plan, to overseas investors. I want to say to developers: first dibs for Londoners.’
These just sound like nice ideas. Will they actually change the reality of renting in London?
‘It’s a big issue, so we need to bring prices down. Firstly, I’m going to set up a not-for-profit letting agent across London. Tenants can come to me and get a three-year tenancy; during those three years your rent only goes up by inflation. Secondly, I’ll set up a London Living Rent at a third of average London earnings. It’s worth stabilising the rental market, because the alternative is what we’ve got now.’
So many of the attacks on you have been based on your ethnicity and religion. Are you surprised by that?
‘Disappointed. I’ve lived in this city all my life. The way I see it, we’re all multiple entities. I’m a Londoner, I’m British, I’m English, I’m European, I’m of Islamic faith, I’m of Asian origin. There is no one thing that defines who I am. But the thing that disappoints me is that I quite like Zac Goldsmith, I think he’s an okay geezer and my experience of him over the past six years in Parliament is positive. I thought he would be above this.’
Zac has been quite personal in his campaigning. Are you hurt by that?
‘Well, I’ve got a thick skin. It’s my family and friends who get hurt by it. I’ve got Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Christians and those who aren’t part of an organised faith helping in my campaign. I’ve got gays and lesbians. I’ve got black and white, old and young. I’ve even got people from Yorkshire. Basically everyone. I feel for them because they see an attack on me and take it personally. The other side are desperate because they know we’re ahead. The best way I see to get revenge is to win.’
You're pushing the fact that you're the son of a bus driver. Does what your dad did really have any bearing on your job?
‘The reason I talk about my background is that it motivates me to want to be the Mayor of London. My grandparents were immigrants from India to Pakistan; my parents were immigrants from Pakistan to London. I’ll be the first in three generations of Khans to move nowhere. This is my city. The city gave my family the chance to fulfil our potential. When I talk about my family, it’s not to compare and contrast with the other guy, it’s because that’s what motivates me, that’s why I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.’
Are you saying your social background makes you a better candidate than Zac for mayor?
‘No, I never talk about his background. I never criticise Zac for his background. We aren’t responsible for who our parents are.’
If I was from a public school background, I would feel it's you saying to me that you worked hard to get where you are and I didn't.
‘Well, I’m not saying that at all. What I am saying is that I want to be a mayor for all Londoners. The joy of London is that we can work together and I could have gone to public school, you may not have done, but we can work together. That’s the wonder of London – we live together cheek by jowl.’