Alright, let’s play a little game. What do Gavin Barwell, Greg Hands, Jo Johnson, Nick Hurd, Chris Philp, Paul Scully, and Greg Hands again have in common? I’ll let you think for a second.
Is your answer “probably all Conservative MPs, but I wouldn’t feel comfortable picking them out of a line-up”? If so, you’re not quite there, but you are close. The one thing these six people share is that they have all been, or currently are, minister for London. Hands appears twice as he had the gig in 2017 and 2018, and was reappointed by Rishi Sunak earlier this week.
The post was initially created by John Major in 1994, then abolished by David Cameron in 2010. In that time, six MPs occupied the post, of whom one was a woman. Theresa May brought the role back into government in 2016, and there hasn’t been a single woman or non-white politician doing the job since then.
Prime ministers have come and gone, benches have been reshuffled more times than anyone could count and still, it’s only ever been white men speaking for London. It is, at risk of stating the obvious, an incredibly frustrating state of affairs.
The capital is not only an incredibly diverse place, but a city actively known and cherished for its diversity. Of course, it is possible for white men to competently speak up for London in government, but it seems absurd that they are seemingly the only people ever allowed to do so.
Over in City Hall, it is fair to say that things have been marginally better, but still lacking. In the 23 years since the post was created by Tony Blair, only men have ever been elected London mayor. Sadiq Khan is a proud British Asian man, which is encouraging, but more should still be done to increase diversity at the top of the capital.
There have, so far, been six elections for the role, and none of them featured a female candidate put forward by either major party. This will change at the next one, as the Tories will be represented by Susan Hall, but the less is said about her, the better.
Hall may be a woman but she has, on several occasions, liked tweets praising Enoch Powell, as well as engaged with content making abusive remarks about Sadiq Khan and calling London “Londonistan”. Diversity in representation is important, but it isn’t everything, especially if the politicians in question then fail to act in a way that is truly inclusive.
On the bright side, current polling shows that Susan Hall is about as likely to win the next mayoral election as I am to get married to Rihanna. Khan will, for the foreseeable future, remain the man representing London. One thing he could do would be to tell his party to finally appoint his successor in Parliament.
A former shadow minister for London, Khan was never replaced when he decided to run for City Hall. It wouldn’t exactly be a game-changing appointment, but it feels telling that the opposition hasn’t even bothered filling the post for seven years.
Perhaps that is because “minister for London” isn’t really a job which anyone takes seriously. Over on the government website, the last news story issued by the office was released in May 2020, and was a (rather optimistic, given the date) COVID-19 recovery plan.
My demands, then, are as straightforward as they are ambitious. London is Britain’s capital and the money-making engine of the country. Millions of visitors come to see it every year; it is a remarkable place full of remarkable industries and remarkable people. It is also a city which is becoming increasingly unaffordable to millions, where homelessness is a worsening problem and crime a pressing concern.
In order for it to reach its full potential again, it must be adequately represented in government. More thought should also be put in who that representative should be. “Minister for London” ought to be an important title, not one of those jobs given to people looking a bit bored before reshuffles. It should also go to people who look and sound like Londoners, and wouldn’t all go down in one fell swoop in a round of Guess Who.
Londoners deserve better; we deserve better.