Labour’s most successful leader in recent times, the mayor of London Sadiq Khan, has set out a clear path to power for the party to unite and start winning elections.
Khan also appeared to throw down the gauntlet to re-elected leader Jeremy Corbyn, saying Labour needed to win a big sweep of city mayoral elections if it was to stand any chance of bagging “the biggest prize”.
His rousing and highly effective address on Tuesday (September 27) to the Labour party conference in Liverpool received rapturous applause and a near 10-minute standing ovation – led by Corbyn himself.
Mentioning the leader only once by name in his speech, there were hints that the mayor could become a rallying figure for those disillusioned by Labour’s lurch to the left following Corbyn’s decisive win.
In his speech, Khan argued that without power, Labour was but a pale imitation of itself. Only with power could the party look – and crucially act – like a government in waiting.
Politely acknowledging Corbyn’s triumph, he made it clear where Labour priorities should lie. Khan then stressed that only in power could the party meet the challenges the country was facing.
“Now, it’s time for us all to work together towards the greatest prize,” he urged his political colleagues, who packed out the conference centre and gave him a standing ovation as he walked on to the stage.
Highlighting major injustices and inequality that will continue to persist across the land if the Conservative party retains its stranglehold on power at Westminster, Khan cautioned that Labour would not only be failing itself but also the people it sought to serve – often the most vulnerable and needy.
“The people who need us most are those who suffer the most when Labour is not in power,” he said.
Winning elections was at the heart of Khan’s message – he used the phrase ‘Labour in power’ 38 times, sparking a trend on Twitter. Without power, the Labour party could not tackle the problems the country faced in the coming years, he emphasised.
Laying down a clear challenge, he urged the party to win mayoral elections next year in Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham and all the great cities in Britain. If Labour won, it would send a powerful signal to the rest of the country.
“With Labour in power in cities and regions, we can show that our party can be trusted to govern again,” Khan asserted.
“With Labour in power we can demonstrate that we can make a real difference to people’s lives. And with Labour in power, we can prove that we’re ready for government.”
If it failed to win in these cities, he reasoned, it was not just bad for the party but the people in those cities too.
“Labour out of power will never ever be good enough. We can only improve lives with Labour in power. By winning elections.”
He suggested that the internal wrangles and disputes of the last year had deflected Labour from its core message.
“It’s only with Labour in power we can create a fairer, more equal and more just Britain. And when Labour’s not in power, we fail the very people who need us most.”
Winning was not just a duty but a responsibility and one that had to be at the forefront of everything the party did, Khan said.
He said his own victory in May – when he was not the favourite to win but then got a near 57 per cent majority over Conservative Zack Goldsmith – showed what could be done when Labour put its mind to winning and championing change to assist the poorest and weakest in society.
“It’s only when Labour is in power that we get the chance to fix the problems that we care most about, like the housing crisis.”
He offered concrete policy proposals as part of his speech, and said this was putting Labour principles into practice to tackle everyday issues.
“With Labour out of power, the number of affordable new homes built falls. The cost of rent rockets. And the number of homeless people sleeping on our streets rises. But it’s only with Labour in power that we can make tackling the housing crisis our number one priority.”
He said he had already started to tackle the housing shortage in the capital by introducing new measures to encourage affordable house building, capping extortionate private rents and addressing homelessness and looking at ways of helping young people get on the housing ladder.
“Of course we always have to be honest we won’t be able to fix the housing crisis overnight – it’s too serious and entrenched a problem.”
He castigated the Conservative government for playing politics with people’s lives – it has failed to reassure European Union (EU) nationals that their status in Britain will change post Brexit.
Describing the June referendum campaign as “divisive” and “bruising” he lamented: “The future of EU citizens in Britain, who came here because they want to work and contribute, is being used as a bargaining chip.
“That’s wrong, and the government should be ashamed,” Khan said.
Addressing EU nationals directly, he said they were welcome and saluted their “massive contribution” to “our NHS, schools, on construction sites, and in business”.
“You make a massive contribution to our country, economically, socially and culturally. Thank you. You are welcome here.”
Hate crime was on the increase too with a Tory government that clearly had other priorities and was not that interested in social cohesion or community harmony, he said.
Khan called for Britain to have its first deputy mayor for social integration.
“With Labour out of power, hate crime is rising – whether it is anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, homophobia or any other form of this vile crime.
“Extremism is a growing problem – whether in the Muslim community or on the far right.”
Throughout his speech on the conference podium, he emphasised Labour was out of the power where it mattered most and that only by getting back in could it hope to tackle the issues.
He stressed that winning elections in the cities offered a way back to Downing Street to accommodate a Labour prime minster.
“It’s only with Labour in power that we can make a real start – and a real difference.”