Emails released to me under FOI show how Team Khan hijacked what was originally meant to be a visit to support Newham’s borough-wide landlord licensing scheme and turned the focus onto their own database of rogue landlords which won’t launch until “the Autumn.”
Newham has enjoyed great success in clamping down on landlords letting out substandard homes, leading to more than 1,1000 landlords being prosecuted, but its approval to run the scheme is due to expire and the council is understandably keen to put pressure on ministers to grant a renewal.
To support these efforts, it was decided that Sadiq Khan and Newham Mayor, Sir Robin Wales, would join a landlord enforcement raid on April 26th which was to serve as “a media hook…ultimately aimed at influencing the Minister.”
But this strategy got overtaken by events. On April 18th Theresa May seized the opportunity given to her by Brussels briefing against the UK’s Brexit plans and stunned the political establishment by calling a General Election for June 8th.
In London this suddenly meant City Hall and local councils were facing a period of media blackout known as purdah, during which public statements and policy announcements are forbidden.
With this in mind, Newham asked that Sadiq’s visit and the raid be postponed until after the election.
On 18th April the council’s officials told City Hall: “Given the raid was a media hook and ultimately aimed at influencing the Minister it will be difficult to call on a non-existent Government to act/support our submission. We also now can’t submit until after the GE as there is technically no government to receive it and by then we may well have a new Minister/Sec of State in place.”
The official added: “If that is acceptable from your side we can press ahead but just want to outline that we will be limited and the visit will no longer be in line with our submission.”
In other words, the only way the visit would serve its original purpose of supporting Newham’s application is if it was pushed back, going ahead with it would generate some media activity but none really of use to the council.
But Sadiq’s office weren’t keen on the delay – his office swiftly responded, saying “we’d still like to press ahead.”
Suddenly the carefully choreographed raid was no longer serving its original purpose and warnings that this was the case were being brushed aside.
Sadiq’s office told the council they were keen to continue because “we’ve got time booked in the mayor’s diary and he’s committed to attending.” But there was another reason City Hall were keen on the visit proceeding – officials were planning to use it “as a press announcement” for Sadiq’s own database.
An email sent to the project steering group confirmed this at 14.16 on the 20th, but the senior Newham official liaising with Mayor Khan’s office didn’t find out until later that day when City Hall suddenly asked for a quote in the name of Sir Robin to go in the press release.
“This isn’t something that was mentioned previously,” said the council officer, adding: “This is the first time we have heard that there was a planned launch on the visit.”
That’s a pretty big omission but more were to come.
On April 24th, having received a draft of the press release, the council informed City Hall that some of the technical details about its scheme were incorrect and provided corrections.
It also inserted into Sadiq’s quote the important closing line: “The Government must allow this great work to continue.”
However the final press release ignored the corrections and omitted the suggested line of support – City Hall would later blame this on “poor version control rather than anything deliberate”.
Whatever the reason, the result was a press release with some serious factual errors and a softer message of support than requested by Newham which had already seen its raid morph from its original intended purpose into yet another Sadiq Khan photo-op.