Today’s big question

Police, drugs and transport: what powers does London Mayor Sadiq Khan really have?

Home secretary proposing to curb mayoral influence over Met hiring and firing decisions

The scope of Sadiq Khan’s powers as London mayor is under scrutiny after Priti Patel ordered an independent review of his role in the hiring and firing of Metropolitan Police commissioners.

The Times reported that the review will be headed by Tom Winsor, the recently retired chief inspector of constabulary. The move follows the “ousting” of Met chief Cressida Dick in February, after Khan withdrew his support for her amid “racism, misogyny and misconduct scandals” in the force. 

Patel was said to have been “blindsided” by the Labour mayor’s withdrawal of confidence “only a few months” after Dick was awarded a two-year extension to her contract, the paper continued. The home secretary will choose Dick’s successor but is “legally required to take Khan’s opinion into account”.

In a further clash over Khan’s powers, Policing Minister Kit Malthouse has told the mayor to end his “baffling” support for legalising cannabis and focus on knife crime in the capital instead.

What is Khan’s role as mayor?

Khan “sets the budget and is responsible for making London a better place for everyone who visits, lives or works in the city”, according to the London Assembly website. The former Labour MP for Tooting “has a duty to create plans and policies for the capital”, covering issues ranging from arts and culture to housing, transport and policing. 

According to Police UK, Kahn “is responsible for setting policing and crime priorities for London”. As mayor, he “will hold the Met Police commissioner to account and work with partners to ensure that crimes goes down and criminal justice outcomes are improved”.

The Telegraph reported in February that Patel was planning a shake-up of legislation to prevent police and crime commissioners (PCC) from dismissing chief constables, including Met commissioners, “for political or personal reasons”. Khan is the equivalent of a PCC for London, so “does have the power to effectively dismiss the commissioner and suspend them if the Metropolitan Police Authority wants to remove or force them to retire”, said the paper.

Khan can also influence policing in the capital in other ways, although he doesn’t have the power to change specific legislation.

 Following through on a key manifesto pledge in his mayoral campaign last year, Khan has appointed  former justice secretary Charlie Falconer to lead a London Drugs Commission that “will examine the potential benefits of legalising cannabis” in London, This is Local London reported.

While the mayor cannot legalise cannabis, he can “provide recommendations on any potential model” for drug reform in the capital, and is likely to “focus on existing solutions that can be implemented without Home Office approval”, said Politics.co.uk

Khan is backing a pilot scheme in which young people aged 18 to 24 found with “small” amounts of cannabis in the London boroughs of Lewisham, Greenwich and Bexley are to be offered speeding-course-style classes or counselling instead of arrest. 

The project is being spearheaded by Damien Egan, the mayor of Lewisham, but may be funded by the mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime (MOPAC), after “similar pre-custody ‘diversion schemes’ for drug users” were found to work successfully in other parts of the country, the London Evening Standard reported.

Could Khan’s powers be reduced?

According to The Times, a terms of reference for the independent review ordered by Patel asks Winsor to “provide the home secretary with advice, options and recommendations on how accountability and due process in these respects may be strengthened”.

The review will look at whether the mayor’s role should be “diminished” in order to “reduce the impact of politics”, said the paper, and “whether changes could be made so that a withdrawal of mayoral confidence would not necessarily result in a commissioner’s resignation”.

Reducing Khan’s powers would require new legislation, and would be likely to “anger City Hall, given that his role is to hold the Met to account and requires a close working relationship with its leadership”. 

But, added The Times, “it is possible, though considered much less likely”, that Winsor could recommend that the mayor “be given more powers, to skew the balance in his favour”.

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