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Monday, 15 April 2024
Sadiq Khan: British voters will not accept a PM involved in sleaze
Sadiq Khan said Keir Starmer is ‘laying the foundations’ for the Labour party’s return.

London mayor says Tory MPs defending Boris Johnson should ‘look at themselves in the mirror’ Sadiq Khan

Conservative MPs defending Boris Johnson’s lack of transparency over the funding of his flat renovations should “have a look at themselves in the mirror”, Sadiq Khan has said, predicting sleaze would eventually affect support for the government.

The London mayor, who is standing for re-election next week, said it was “offensive to British voters” to claim people did not care about transparency, or that such behaviour was expected from the prime minister.

Speaking to the Guardian, Khan also said that next Thursday’s local and mayoral elections should not be viewed as a verdict on Keir Starmer’s leadership, saying the Labour leader was still “laying the foundations” for the party’s return.

On Friday, Starmer called for Johnson to say who had initially paid for the work on his Downing Street flat, telling reporters on a campaign visit: “Frankly, it’s getting ridiculous that the prime minister won’t simply answer the question – it’s not a difficult question.”

Conservative ministers and others have said only that Johnson “has met the costs” of the renovation work, declining to discuss what might have happened initially.

Khan said: “Those politicians who are using that script should have a look at themselves in the mirror. Boris Johnson will sooner or later be gone, and they will have to explain what they said, day after day, about his behaviour.

“Those Tories who are maybe feeling a bit smug and arrogant – they should just pause and reflect on what that means about them, and what it says, in their view, about the British public.”

He added: “I don’t think it is the case that the British public accept a prime minister who is involved in sleaze or cronyism. It’s not ‘priced in’. That is so offensive to British voters.”

The Labour mayor is the overwhelming favourite to win a second term on 6 May, although he expresses concern this could prompt supportive voters to stay at home, especially given Covid restrictions.

Keir Starmer campaigns in the Hartlepool byelection. Keir Starmer campaigns in the Hartlepool byelection.

Labour could face a difficult time nationwide, showing little or no progress in former heartland areas and potentially losing a byelection in the parliamentary constituency of Hartlepool, a seat held by the party since it was created in 1974.

A bad night should not be viewed as a sign Starmer had failed, Khan said, arguing that sleaze allegations would eventually have an impact on poll numbers. “What people don’t realise, when you look at polls, is it takes time – the drip, drip, drip, drip. I lived through the banking crisis, I lived through the phone-hacking crisis, MPs’ expenses, and it doesn’t happen overnight.”

More generally, he said, it would take time to persuade voters sceptical of Labour to back the party, likening it to the process it went through between the defeat to John Major in 1992 and Tony Blair’s victory in 1997.

“I’ve got to be honest, speaking to Labour MPs, activists, councillors across the country, for a long period of time people weren’t listening to us, it was like white noise. We’ve got to stay calm, we shouldn’t panic. I think Keir is doing exactly the right thing.

“You’ve got to understand when you’ll get to the summit. You want to get to the summit probably around spring 2023, that’s probably when the election is going to be.

“There are various staging posts. I don’t think we should assess success or otherwise based on the results around the country on 6 May. What Keir is doing is laying the foundations for our party, repairing some of the damage done, making sure the country gives us the permission to be heard – not necessarily, at this stage, agreeing with what he’s saying, but the first stage is getting permission to be heard.”

On the plus side for Labour, Khan said, was the sense that Johnson and his government had lost touch with voters, citing quotes attributed to the prime minister’s camp that the Downing Street flat was a “John Lewis furniture nightmare” under Theresa May.

Khan worked part-time in the haberdashery department of Peter Jones, part of the John Lewis chain, when he was a student. He said: “I’m personally offended as a former John Lewis partner. This, again, is the out-of-touchness. Normally it takes 18 years for a government to become out of touch, if you’re the Tories.” Sadiq Khan

source: Peter Walker