IF Boris Johnson won’t talk to us about his views on the fire service in the wake of the Finchley Road inferno and the fatal blaze in Camden Town on the same day, we thought we would seek the views of Sadiq Khan, the Labour candidate hoping to take over from him next May.
You might think this was something of a free hit for Sadiq: Boris’s administration after all has closed stations and removed fire engines, insisting the city had enough cover – and yet when we had two major incidents on the same day, an elderly man died at a fire to which a clearly-stretched team of firefighters arrived late to.
But in his answers, Sadiq doesn’t do much more than cautiously prod around the edges, making no promises about re-instating what’s been lost. In fact, he didn’t go too much further than pledging a review of fire cover in London, which you’d assume any new Mayor would do when taking up the post, regardless of the recent events in north London. This caginess – a sort of reluctance not to commit to too much, which reminded some of us in the office of the interviews we did with Ed Miliband over the years of his leadership – may just count against him the long run. He can’t just tell his life story over and over again and be satisfied with that as a campaign. He needs to be bolder than relying on London to simply vote for a bus driver’s son ahead of a rich guy; as dazzled as we are all meant to be by his endlessly-repeated family tree. If Andy Burnham and co’s defeat to Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour leadership contest told us anything, smothering opinions and ideas for fear of losing has become a real turn-off.
The frustration is apparent among members of the London Fire Brigade Union who clearly want a street-fighter politician to back them up ahead of the London elections. There are more cuts to the service in the offing, and they seek a bit of protection. The response to Sadiq’s CNJ interview among some members follows the caricature of him being a Tory apologist.
There is also this counter-story going around that he could be the guy who pledged what he likes, but, due to the fact he openly changed his mind on scrapping Boris’s garden bridge project, nothing is ever set in stone with Sadiq. He needs to get rid of that image smartish if he doesn’t want it to play a part in the polls.
The union, meanwhile, is holding a special conference later this month to discuss whether it should re-confirm its allegiance with Labour.