As I write this, the first preference votes for the London mayoral election are counted and Sadiq Khan has won 44.2% of them (on a turnout of only 45.3%); second preferences are being counted, but it seems to be accepted that Khan has won. The campaign has been fought, as far as I am aware, without any reference to either his policies or those of his Tory opponent, Zac Goldsmith (son of James, former editor of the Ecologist and MP for Richmond Park, which includes the northern part of Kingston); it has been fought almost entirely on the basis of smears against Khan for having connections to extremists, including former clients from when he was a Human Rights lawyer and someone who used to be (but isn’t now) married to his sister. Goldsmith’s campaign was ‘masterminded’ by Lynton Crosby, who has a history of winning election campaigns in both the UK and Australia using divisive, often anti-immigrant (or, as in this case, just anti-minority) stances, earning himself a knighthood for “services to politics”, but this campaign showed his limits: it was a disaster, as Goldsmith found himself denying that he had links to conservative Muslim leaders in south London such as Suliman Gani, only for the links to be proven.
Goldsmith could have won this election. He could have fought the campaign on issues that matter to everyone; most of his role, after all, pertains to transport, although he has a bit of a public relations role as well, serving as a figurehead for London. Boris Johnson, the outgoing Tory mayor, is still quite popular (although his opponent on both occasions was Ken Livingstone, who had lost a lot of popularity because of his arrogance, best exemplified in the western extention to the Congestion Charge into residential areas of west London, which he pressed ahead with despite its massive unpopularity); although he has largely built on the achievements of others, including Ken Livingstone, his two terms in office haven’t been the disaster some people feared. Unlike Johnson, Goldsmith does not have a prior record (as far as I know) of promoting bigotry; Johnson edited the Spectator when it printed several viciously Islamophobic front pages following bombings and riots here and in France. While of course the Muslim vote on its own will not win anyone an election in London, Goldsmith could have secured it given his connections to the community in south London and Sadiq Khan’s questionable loyalty (for example, making scaremongering claims such as that a certain large percentage of British Muslims had met an extremist).
A lot of people, including his sister Jemima Goldsmith (once known as Jemima Khan, former wife of Pakistani cricketer and politician Imran Khan), had remarked that the campaign did not reflect the Zac Goldsmith they knew, who was according to his sister “an eco friendly, independent-minded politician with integrity”. Tell MAMA claimed that he “is a man who cares about issues affecting communities and is someone with a genuine desire to make a positive change for communities”. Yet for whatever reason he allowed Lynton Crosby to run a highly negative campaign on his behalf, which some commentators called a “doughnut strategy”, appealing to the white middle classes in the suburbs while demonising the inner city and minorities, or at least some of them. He also made an appeal to Hindus and Sikhs by claiming that Khan supported a “tax on family jewellery”, boasted that he had “welcomed Prime Minister Modi to London last year alongside Prime Minister David Cameron” while Khan had not, and had supported a ban on the visit, and talked of his “strong record of engagement with the Indian community, celebrating Diwali, Navratri and Janmashtami”, without mentioning any Muslim festivals.
I heard Andrew Boff, a Tory London assembly member, criticise the Goldsmith campaign for “blowing up bridges” that the Conservatives had built with the Muslim community in Newham (his example), accusing him of “effectively saying that people of conservative religious views are not to be trusted and you shouldn’t share a platform with them”. However, on Vanessa Feltz’s show where he was interviewed, he said that Goldsmith’s policies were excellent and that he still hoped he won. But sadly, however fine his policies, we cannot reward a politician who runs a racist campaign by voting for him. It would allow any future politician seeking election in a mixed city to think he can use smears and fears to win and the next time, it could be accompanied with violence, as has been the case with Donald Trump’s campaign to get the Republican presidential nomination in the US. Opposing racism and bigotry must trump almost anything else.
I don’t believe any of the romantic notions that London is above bigotry, that it would never elect a politician who traded on race-based fear. But it is a city where people live together, not a city of affluent suburbs and ghettoes. There is almost no part of London where you could live for years and have no contact with ethnic and religious minorities, including Muslims. It is also easy to overestimate the reach of papers like the Evening Standard, which is mostly sold to and read by rail commuters. The result, if it is as predicted, is a bloody nose to the Tory leadership and to its attack dog Crosby, who threw away an easy victory in order to follow a tired negative campaign script. It’s hugely to the credit of Sadiq Khan’s campaign that, despite the ongoing controversy over “anti-Semitism” and the history of “anti-Zionist” campaigns in certain areas with a heavy Muslim population, this campaign did not even hint at Zac Goldsmith’s ancestry. They played it clean and it appears to have paid off.
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