Sadiq Khan's LBC radio phone-in is a clever crowd-pleaser that shows why he's the new Mayor of London

The successor to media manipulator Boris Johnson gave a fluent, but not too polished, performance responding to voters’ questions – including the thorny issue of his position on Palestine

John Rentoul
Thursday 19 May 2016 09:30 BST
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, on the LBC phone-in this morning
Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, on the LBC phone-in this morning

Sadiq Khan’s flying start as Mayor of London is still airborne. His first stint on the LBC phone-in was fluent and politically adroit.

Most of the questions were the fluffiest of softballs, but he was criticised by two listeners for his failure to express sufficient solidarity with the Palestinian cause. His responses were deft. Asked why he had turned down an invitation from the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, he said he had had “literally hundreds and hundreds of invitations”, he wasn’t aware of that one, but it was “really important and a privilege” to attend the Holocaust memorial event in his first weekend as Mayor.

Later on, James O’Brien – who did a brilliantly self-effacing job as presenter – read out a message from a listener who said she had turned off because Khan had refused to recognise the suffering of the Palestinian people. Khan was unruffled, saying, “I will not use City Hall to give a running commentary on foreign affairs”.

He was fluent, but not too polished. He stopped and had to start again when reading out the introduction giving people the number to call.

Generally it was relaxed, crowd-pleasing performance. O’Brien asked him what was the first thing he did when he became Mayor. He met the Metropolitan Police Commissioner – “the Commissioner”, he called him, because nobody knows who Bernard Hogan-Howe is – “my most important responsibility is to keep the city safe”. Right answer.

The first caller was John from Camden who was worried about 20 years of disruption from building the High Speed 2 railway to Euston. “I share your concerns,” said Khan, adding that he wanted to look at Old Oak Common in west London instead. I don’t know if that’s the right answer but John from Camden was happy.

He gave the right answer when asked if his was an “alternative court” to Jeremy Corbyn’s. “I’ve got the best job in the world,” he said, and he was not interested in being leader of the Labour Party.

Sadiq Khan rules out challenging Jeremy Corbyn for Labour leadership

Rebecca wanted to know how great an idea the Mayor’s idea of a one-hour “hoppa” bus fare was, and he said it was coming in in September. Right answer. Paul, a firefighter, was worried about cuts to the fire service and Khan paid tribute to firefighters for saving his family once. Right answer. O’Brien asked if he would campaign for Britain to stay in the EU. “You betcha.” Right answer. Michael called to say he hoped Khan would get rid of the Garden Bridge. Khan said he couldn’t “undo the money spent by the previous mayor, nearly £40m”, but he “would make sure no more of London taxpayers’ money is spent on it”. Right again.

And he gave the right answer on mental health. It’s very important.

Finally we were onto what Khan calls “housin’”, his biggest and least soluble problem. On that he repeated his brilliant device of blaming Boris Johnson. Sounding like a plumber called out to solve the “number one crisis”, he said (I paraphrase), I’ve had a good look at it now and my goodness me what a shocking job’s been done here – the plans are all to pot and there’s nothing in the pipeline. His conclusion, verbatim: “The short answer is that it’ll take me some time to grapple with the issue.”

Well, as he joked earlier in the programme, he’s got 16 years.

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