“L ondon has chosen hope over fear and unity over division.” Sadiq Khan’s message for multiculturalism was by far the most exciting thing to come out of the local council elections. Splashed across the front pages and attracting international interest, the London Mayoral election received more attention than it really deserves, considering the Mayor’s main powers are pretty much limited to setting Tube prices and arguing over another Heathrow runway.
It wasn’t the role which caught the media’s eye, but the victor. Khan’s win was momentous. His policies weren’t anything special, with the candidate oﬀering the usual desirables of cheaper transport, better housing and more jobs. Khan’s victory is instead based on who he is, and who he isn’t. The ﬁrst Muslim Mayor of a European capital city in a week where Donald Trump sealed up the Republican presidential nomination restores some faith in the public.
Khan’s victory is instead based on who he is, and who he isn’t
Yet despite the result, the Mayoral campaign was far from a demonstration of our liberal, multi-cultural utopia. Instead the campaigns were tarred with the same tactics of racism and xenophobia that litter wider politics today. Khan’s Conservative opponent, Zac Goldsmith, has been widely criticised from within and outside his party for his controversial campaign. Goldsmith’s smear tactics, attempting to link Khan to Islamic extremists, have been denounced by his colleagues and even had The Spectator describing it as a “toecurling” performance.
Race was a campaign tool in the Goldsmith camp from the start. He ﬁrst met with controversy with his leaﬂet campaign targeted speciﬁcally at British Indians, sending ﬂyers warning of Khan’s policy to tax family jewellery and criticising his opponent’s absence at an event to welcome Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Goldsmith’s multi-lingual campaign video was meant to show his appreciation for the diversity of the city, but its atrocious production quality and attempt to appeal to minorities only cemented Goldsmith as white and out of touch. With lines like “it’s the start of a new dawn, let’s all ﬁll our hearts with happiness,” it sounded more like something lifted from the North Korean national anthem than a persuasive campaign. Perhaps most shocking though, was his article in the Daily Mail, printed under a photograph of the bombed out London Bus and a headline that read “Are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour party that thinks terrorists are its friends?”. This wasn’t subtle racism; it was open for everyone to see, and fundamental to the Goldsmith campaign.
That was really the problem. A campaign with strokes of racism didn’t ﬂy in a city where a third of citizens were born abroad. Goldsmith entered the race as a left-leaning Tory, and ﬁnished desperately trying to scrub racism from his name. Replying to the accusations of ‘dog whistle tactics,’ Andrew Boﬀ, who Goldsmith beat out to become the Conservative nominee for mayor, put it perfectly. “I don’t think it was dog whistle [tactics],” he explained talking to Newsnight. “You can’t hear a dog whistle. Everybody could hear this.”
The Conservative party are ﬁghting for UKIP’s ground, appealing to the far-right of their own party. Social conservatives, xenophobes and Eurosceptic voters all fall within tantalising grasp of the Tories. However distasteful it is, you can see why Conservative campaigners went down this more racist route. What made less sense, however, is why Labour seemed to be following them.
Former Labour Mayor of London Ken Livingstone sent fear up the Khan campaigners when he decided midcampaign would be the perfect time to air his allegedly anti-Semitic views. Defending Naz Shah, who had been suspended for past comments she had made against the existence of Israel, Livingstone waded in with minimal tact. Speaking on BBC London, the former mayor said that Hitler was essentially a Zionist before “he went a bit mad and ended up killing six million Jews”.
A campaign with strokes of racism didn’t fly
It’s not exactly what you’d expect an ardent left-winger like Ken to say. The Labour Party is the natural home for minority voters, with under-represented groups being protected from the establishment-driven Conservatives. And whilst the Jewish population may not unanimously vote Labour, historically the majority have always done so and with the largest Jewish population in the country residing in London, calling the world’s most notorious anti-Semite a Zionist was not a great tactical move.
Since Jeremy Corbyn took over as leader, there have been multiple scandals related to anti-Semitism, to the point where people are asking whether Labour has a problem within its ranks. MP John Mann, most recently seen shouting “Nazi apologist” at a disgruntled Ken Livingstone as he struggled through a revolving door, has warned of the eﬀect this recent trend may have on Labour’s votes. “Labour’s not going to win power unless we get on top of this problem”, he told the BBC in an interview on election night. “It is clear that the Jewish vote, which for generations has been Labour, has gone against Labour tonight.” Ultimately, Sadiq Khan’s win in London was so strong, Livingstone’s comments couldn’t break his momentum.
Across Europe, anti-Semitism has been on the rise. Attacks on Jews reached a ﬁve-year high in Germany in 2015, with the far-right posing the greatest threat to the community. Signiﬁcantly, there has been an increase in anti-Semitic attacks motivated by ‘foreign ideology’ and jihadism. This May marks the two year anniversary since the anti-Semitic murders of French, Belgian and Israeli citizens. Committed by extremist Islamists, these acts of terror are rare, but there are frequently anti-Semitic motivations. In the end, domestic anti-Semitism is indivisible from the Israel-Palestine debate. Livingstone’s controversial comments came amid his complaints of an Israel lobby within the Left, who will smear anyone “who criticises Israeli policy as anti-Semitic.” Israel-Palestine is a problem that’s not going to go away. Gaza won’t be peaceful for years, but the British can’t avoid the partial responsibility for the crisis. By all means, we should care about international politics and conﬂict, but they must not inﬂuence how we see Muslims and Jews in the UK.
Attacks on Jews reached a five-year high in Germany In 2015
Sadiq Khan’s victory in London is a triumph of diversity over division, yet the campaign road showed every side of British xenophobia. Whilst it was rejected this time, internationally and at home isolationist nationalism is on the rise. With the European Referendum over a month away, we can only hope that unity will out and multiculturalism will stay in.
All you need to know about the elections…
- This is the first London mayor election in which the incumbent did not stand
- Goldsmith’s own sister said his campaign did not reflect his intentions
- US Drudge Report said Khan is “First Muslim Mayor of Londonistan”
- David Cameron refuses to withdraw his criticisms towards Sadiq
- Sadiq Khan polled 56.9%, Goldsmith polled 43.1% of the votes