Mmm, I appear to be sharing the cover of next month’s GQ magazine with Charlize Theron, as you’ll see if you scroll down this this link. Whether the interview with her, or the interview with Sadiq Khan by me, attracts more readers to the news-stands, I couldn’t begin to imagine. But if you scroll down to the bottom of her legs (well, actually to the top of her legs, but you’ll see what I mean,) you’ll see the tagline … ‘Alastair Campbell interviews the next Mayor of London.)
Now, as it happens, I hope they are right. I will certainly be voting for him, and frankly think we have had enough Old Etonians in top political jobs for a while, thank you very much. The departing Etonian, Boris Johnson, has been a very good Mayor for one thing and one thing only – for Boris Johnson. He has been totally useless for London. Most of the good things he takes credit for were actually brought in by Ken Livingstone. But the one thing any campaigner knows is that you take nothing for granted, so Sadiq will know he has to fight every minute of every day to make sure he does everything possible to win as much support as he can.
If you have ever read my GQ interviews, you will know they are run as straight-forward Q and A, over several pages. I like to get at least an hour with the interviewee, because sometimes you need to run over a bit to get enough to fill the five or six pages allocated to them.
Sadiq is a fast talker and when I transcribed our conversation, I realised I was well over the kind of wordage the magazine would be able to run. For the highlights, you’ll have to go out and buy the mag. But by kind permission of the GQ editor, here are some of the off-cuts. Starting with Heathrow. As a lifelong asthmatic, I was interested in his answer here. What he had to say on Birmingham was interesting too.
AC: Why did you change your mind on Heathrow?
SK: I’ve accepted there is a case for more capacity, unlike my opponent. But last year almost ten thousand Londoners died because of poor air quality, kids are growing up with under developed lungs, the Supreme Court says we are in breach of air pollution rules. At 45, I have just been diagnosed with adult onset asthma. The idea of another runway at Heathrow is a joke. It will take decades to get legal obstacles out of the way, it certainly won’t help pollution. Gatwick is the solution. You get the jobs, you get the capacity, you get the growth …
AC: And the local residents don’t have a vote in the Mayoral election.
SK: It’s not that. It’s the practicality, and the pollution. A better Gatwick also means more competition for Heathrow who can hopefully raise their game.
AC: Why not take it right out of London, to the Midlands?
SK: I would revisit London City airport and yes, better regional airports. If HS2 was linking Birmingham to London, there could be a new runway there, that is what Birmingham MPs argue for. That is an argument against Heathrow.
AC: Where are you on HS2?
SK: Great idea. We need to do infrastructure better. It costs so much more here. Since Crossrail, Paris has done five [equivalents]. One worry I have is that Euston doesn’t work as a station for HS2 because there are no links with Crossrail and other systems. So yes to HS2, no to current plans for Euston.
– In the section on Jeremy Corbyn, on which GQ runs a fair chunk, this exchange was cut.
AC: Are you finding people less willing to come out and campaign though, in case it helps him if you win?
SK: On the contrary. I am getting lots of help. Hilary Benn the other day, peers coming to the phone bank yesterday, Margaret Hodge and Oona King backing me then on the other wing if you like, Ken Livingstone. I have Tories, Lib Dems, Greens, Kippers, all coming over. Sure, I could win on a core vote strategy, we have 45 out of 72 MPs in London, that is not the Mayor I want to be. I want to be Mayor for all Londoners.
-In the section on housing, this.
AC: But do you have power there, or only influence?
SK: The Plan for London gives me that power. I am also going to set up a London wide not for profit letting agent to stop some of the worst rip offs, provide cheaper alternatives. We need a Mayor who understands the powers and how to use them. Now, the London Plan is the Bible…
AC: Not the Koran?
SK: … I do do God, Alastair, but if I said Koran not Bible I might provoke another “radical and divisive” Zac leaflet. So the London Plan is the Bible and (this next bit is part of the published interview …the next things the Mayor and local authorities should have are skills, further education, planning of education places, commuter trains to London, more powers on housing, the ability to borrow to build, issue bonds.)
AC: Why has London not really been part of the debate about next steps for devolution?
SK: Because nobody is batting for London. Boris is disinterested. All he wanted was to prove he could be a winner. There is one school of thought that says Mayors should cut ribbons, be funny and be a buffoon. The other school of thought is that we can do more. Scotland is getting more powers. Wales is getting more powers. Greater Manchester. London needs more powers.
SK: Like powers on skills. [New York Mayor] Bill de Blasio realized New York was a world leader on tech. He set up a tech talent pipeline, to train up New Yorkers for the skills of tomorrow. I want to do it for London, for tech, fashion, the creative industries, say to business, come to Hackney, Tower Hamlets, Harrow, Croyon, speak to our young people, inspire them, help me train them up.
– He said he was loving the campaign, and added this.
The only thing I would love more is being Mayor because I can do stuff, fix the housing crisis, get employers to skill up, pay a living wage, freeze fares for four years, sort transport. If the Mayor says to top companies to come together to discuss skills, they’ll come. I can persuade people.
-He was keen to emphasise his pro-business credentials.
Most employers I speak to, they want to create jobs and give decent salaries. Some small and medium companies say to me they cannot afford to pay the living wage. I say “what about if I gave you a business rate cut?” and they say, yes, ok. We want companies which are skilled up, generating more profit, more corporation tax – we should not be embarrassed at success, as long as they pay their taxes. London has always been open to trade, people, ideas. We have to keep that. I want to compete not just with New York, Paris, Berlin … the ten fastest growing cities in the world are in China. How do we compete with them? We have to attract investment and we have to compete on skills.
AC: Do you not feel that London is becoming almost like a separate country from the rest of the UK?
SK: London had always been different. There is the old saying that Britain is ten years behind America, and the country as a whole is ten years behind London. If you have a Mayor of London working for jobs and growth and strong businesses, that is going to create opportunities for businesses and people in Burnley or Hull and places all over the UK.
-Keen too to stress support for the arts.
SK: We cannot compete with China or Taiwan on price; we compete on skills, on arts and culture. On arts this is the world’s leader. Adele. James Bond. JK Rowling. Royal Opera House. Barbican. O2. Four out of five people who come here say they come for our cultural arts.
AC: How are you going to get more kids from poorer backgrounds into that?
SK: You know the European city of culture? London will have a borough of culture. Could be Redbridge, Havering, Croydon. The Royal Opera House will go to them. Imagine great art and sculpture in squares in Brixton or Tooting. Then we get the kids into the theatres and the concerts. In Newham, already, every child gets to play an instrument. Let’s spread that. London has lost thirty percent of live music venues since 2007. Never mind mourning David Bowie, some of the halls he first played in have closed down. Developers put up buildings, then complain about the noise and the venues can’t afford soundproofing. I say flip it around so the developers have to do the soundproofing on the new developments. The Mayor has the power to do that.
-We talked a fair bit about homelessness and mental health.
SK: I was out with St Mungo’s Broadway and Crisis at Christmas and what is needed is faster intervention. A simple thing like duty solicitors at court when people are being made homeless. Making sure local authorities are better connected with data, so that when someone from one area is homeless in another one, nobody is able to say “nothing to do with us.” More alcohol dependency centres. Fewer silos. More joined up interventions – the Mayor can do that, bring together housing, education, children’s centres, prisons. St Mungo’s do this great thing – and fair dues, Boris played a part in this – “no second night out.” If you are out for the second night, they find emergency digs. But then the problem is lack of continuity of care. Hardly surprising when local authorities have lost 60percent of funding. But you cannot live in the best city in the world and have people living on the streets.
-And a fair bit about his and other people’s sense of identity.
SK: Or think back to the Olympics, I was at home with twelve people, there were 80,000 in the stadium, tens of millions watching TV, cheering on an African, an asylum seeker, a Muslim, a black guy, a refugee, Mo, Mohammed, Farah. That was the best ever. And the Mo Farah story is this: he goes to his local state school, a PE teacher spots his talent, he goes to the track, he starts to get noticed, then Paula Radcliffe pays for his driving lessons so he can pass his test to drive elsewhere to train and compete and and fulfil his potential. He got a helping hand. Too many in London today, who could make it in sport, arts, media, the law, they are missing out, can’t get decent homes, not enough apprenticeships, not enough access to the best unis and colleges.
-Insights on TB-GB, and Ed Miliband.
AC: Why are we so low on talent in politics?
SK: There are talented people. It’s all relative. Part of it is that a generation of Labour politicians became MPs in the time of a Labour government. The ability to be themselves and develop was inhibited by control freakery at the centre …
AC: We call it “necessary discipline.”
SK: I am not criticizing you. It was necessary. We won elections, did amazing things. But all that Blair-Brown camp stuff, or express an opinion and it makes you a rebel… The generation elected in Opposition spent a lot of time thinking, planning. Tony and Gordon went off to America to look for ideas. But was there enough succession planning? Did the generation elected when we were in government think ahead enough? No, so 2010 and 2015 were not so exciting.
AC: You ran Ed Miliband’s leadership campaign. Do you still think he was the right guy?
SK: Yes. He won fair and square in 2010.
AC: But the public never saw him as a PM. That was a real problem.
SK: Hindsight tells us that.
AC: You don’t think it was clear at the time?
SK: It was far better for him to have stood, rather than have a re-run of 1994 and all it led to, the TBGBs.
AC: But we did win three elections despite it all.
SK: Ok. But if Ed thought he should be leader, then he was right to go for it. Don’t keep your hands in your pockets, go for it. There are lots of things to say in hindsight, because we lost the election.
-We discussed compromise, his various positions, and I suggested it was all a bit too neat.
AC: Yeah, but is that compromise? It all fits the strategy. Pro-business because Corbyn is seen as anti. Positive message on immigration because the backstory fits. It is all very nicely packaged.
SK: Thank you! (laughs) I am not sure I am that clever. I have to be myself.
-On the police, he says there is lingering racism, but …
My kids would approach the police in a way that I would never have done when I was younger. But also remember a lot of the cases I did, which I won and became a successful lawyer, were police misconduct cases, wrongful arrest, malicious prosecution, or helping black police officers subject to racism.
-He wasn’t going to fall into a Royal trap.
AC: Are you a Monarchist?
SK: I like the Queen.
AC: I didn’t ask that. I asked if you are a Monarchist.
SK: I could paraphrase the Churchill quote about democracy being the worst system apart from all the others …
AC: The Monarchy is not democratic.
SK: She is doing a good job. If it ain’t broke …
– Emphatic about this next one.
AC: Could you be PM? If this goes well, and you serve two terms, you could be well placed to be leader.
SK: No. I am not interested. I want to be Mayor of London.
-We both did some decent name-dropping in this final edited-out highlight.
AC: This is GQ, and you once said you were cool. Define cool.
SK: My kids said I was cool. I was GQ Man of the Month once, photographed by David Bailey.
AC: He’s done me three times, that’s nothing. Define cool.
SK: Somebody who doesn’t embarrass his children too much. Who is just at ease at a Kooks concert or taking his kids to see the Nutcracker. Oh, and John Boyega knows who I am.
AC: Who’s he?
SK: Who is John Boyega? Finn in Star Wars.
AC: I’m not interested in Star Wars.
SK: Well, I am and he knew who I was.
AC: It’s hardly on a par with playing football with Maradona.
SK: I played in a match against you. You were good, but very dirty.
— GQ, coming soon to a news-stand near you. Vote Sadiq. Vote Remain. And wish Burnley luck against Cardiff tonight.