by Oliver Baynham
Sadiq Khan’s divisive victory in the London mayoral election earlier this month was quite possibly the most exciting result to come out of ‘election day’. This could be seen in the newspaper headlines on the day of its announcement – each one echoing the same points, as if they were the only two newsworthy facts: Khan’s father’s nationality and previous occupation (he was a Pakistani bus driver, if you hadn’t heard), and more importantly, the fact that Khan is a muslim. Even the Daily Mail managed to reiterate these points without sounding too biased.
The landslide triumph against the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith comes at a time when political involvement seems at its most futile – with the public sector crippling under austerity, the Labour party’s lack of direction under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and the country ripping itself apart over the EU referendum. Council-estate-born Sadiq Khan beat one of the wealthiest MPs in parliament to become Boris Johnson’s successor, not only coming as a breath of fresh air for disenfranchised left-wingers everywhere, but also resonating in the hearts of all working class people, British muslims, and anyone who thinks that the world is against them because they are different, this story has become a quintessential success story. With roughly two thirds of the UK MP’s being white, middle class men, that fact that minorities are being given the chance to be represented in positions of power is definitely a step in the right direction for diversity in British politics. We do, however, still have quite a way to go.
Given that there were 12 main candidates running for the position of Mayor of London (including Lee Harris from the Cannabis Is Safer Than Alcohol party, who gained an impressive 20,000 votes in the first round), the battle was predominantly fought between Khan, Labour MP for Tooting, and Goldsmith, Conservative MP for North Kingston. Despite the complete absurdity in focusing primarily on the candidates’ party affiliations for a job which requires practical, unbiased leadership, the battle seemed to facilitate a dangerous kind of two-party political combat. As media attention slowly deviated from each candidate’s policies and plans for the future of our capital city, the fight quickly turned to something no democratic election should ever be fought on – race.
Goldsmith and other high profile Conservative MPs have since been lambasted, even by members of their own party and family relatives, for running a campaign in which the main focal point was the competitor’s religion. Not only did they send targeted letters to London citizens with Indian, Pakistani, or Tamil sounding last names, but they also attempted to smear Khan by associating him with Islamic extremists, even using a nasty tactic called ‘dog-whistle’ politics – in which certain words or phrases are used which pass unnoticed by many, but resonate deeply with a few. Unfortunately for Goldsmith, the citizens of London – one of the most ethnically diverse cities in the world – saw straight through his campaign, and subsequent support for Khan blossomed.
Regardless of those who were quick to criticise the campaign, islamophobia has quite clearly lodged itself in the minds of people from all across the country, especially those who support ‘political parties’ such as Britain First. Many believe that London is specifically a Christian city, and that Sadiq Khan as mayor will incite a wave of ‘islamification’. Ignorance, self-defined patriotism, and political campaigns such as Goldsmith’s yield a breeding ground for this strange kind of mentality, but with Khan’s success in London being built on hope and unity, this will hopefully provide a platform for more successes of its kind, as the minority of islamophobic ignoramuses is ridiculed out of existence.