I haven’t written about one of my quirkier hobbies-British politics-for quite some time. But history was made in last week’s local election when Labour MP Sadiq Khan, a Muslim of Pakistani heritage, was elected Mayor of London. The world media haven’t quite known what to do with Khan’s triumph but it *is* genuinely significant both because of who he is and the election’s impact on the future of the Labour Party.
Mayor Khan survived a loathsome racist and Islamophobic campaign to crush Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith who was trying to replace Upper Class Tory Twit Boris Johnson in the job. Here’s how Homa Khaleeli described Goldsmith’s campaign in the Guardian:
First came the dog whistle, with leaflets describing Sadiq Khan as a “radical”; easily read as a coded slur on Khan’s Muslim faith. Then came the guilt by association – with newspaper headlines that an ex-brother-in-law of Khan’s had attended extremist rallies; that Khan shared platforms with extremists; that the imam of a mosque in Tooting, Khan’s constituency, supported Islamic State. Even Khan’s career as a human rights lawyer was twisted into service, with the accusation that he had defended terrorists – as though ensuring the right to a fair trial was itself suspicious.
Did it matter that equally ludicrous claims could be made of Goldsmith? His own ex-brother-in-law, now a Pakistani politician, has been dubbed “Taliban Khan”, while the imam David Cameron accused of supporting Isis – and whom he linked to Sadiq Khan – was actually a Conservative voter, who had been pictured with Goldsmith, and asked to help recruit Muslims by Conservative politicians. But Goldsmith’s team calculated that such smears stick much more easily to brown skin.
They were wrong. Khan’s triumph makes him one of the most influential members of the Labour Party. Labour had a tough day: holding their own in England, but losing ground in Wales, and most importantly, Scotland. The Tories pushed Labour into third place in Scotland. An ominous sign since the Tories had been on life support there since the 1997 General Election.
Khan won by keeping his distance from rumpled crunchy granola Lefty Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who tried taking credit for Khan’s win anyway. Corbyn is like a more genial Bernie Sanders in personal style, but is just as intent on ideological purity. It looks as if Khan and Corbyn will eventually collide on *how* Labour should try to bounce back from two straight general election defeats:
Sadiq Khan, the new Labour mayor of London, has refused to endorse the party’s local election posters, signed off by Jeremy Corbyn, that urged voters to “take sides”.
In a clear signal that he will use his position to set out an alternative direction for Labour, Britain’s most powerful directly elected politician said the party could only win elections by uniting people from all backgrounds – including former Conservative voters – rather than aiming to win over “just enough of the population … to get over the line”.
In an article for the Observer, Khan had appeared to directly contradict Corbyn’s electoral strategy, writing: “It should never be about ‘picking sides’, [or] a ‘them-or-us’ attitude,” Khan wrote. “Our aim should be to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule.”
I’ve always been a big-tenter myself. You cannot change anything if you don’t win elections. I wish Mayor Khan the best in his new job and hope he can influence his party to be less exclusionary. Whatever happens, it will be interesting to watch.
In the end, I am delighted that the voters of one of my favorite cities in the world did not fall for the Tories blatantly bigotry. I hope it sets a precedent but, even if doesn’t, I’m glad that the Tory Khan job failed.