Dirty Politics Undermine Mayoral Election
By Adam George
This Thursday all political eyes will be focused on the English capital as London elects its new mayor. The London mayor is a very important player in British politics, the new mayor will be the figurehead of London as well as controlling the £17 billion budget allocated to this position. This money is used for London’s economy, to fund London’s transport system, police and fire services and to build homes. Like most British elections the fight to become London mayor is seen as a two-horse race between the Labour candidate Sadiq Khan, and the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith. It is fair to say that the pair could not come from more contrasting backgrounds. Self-confessed multimillionaire Mr Goldsmith was born into an extremely wealthy family, went to Eton and later worked as editor of the Ecologist magazine for a decade. The Tory hopeful advocates leaving the EU and has served as MP for the London suburb of Richmond Park since 2010. On the other hand, Mr Khan is the son of an immigrant bus driver from inner London and before entering Parliament he worked as a human rights solicitor. The Labour candidate wants Britain to remain in the EU and has been MP for Tooting since 2005.
The Mayor of London is an extremely prestigious role and the result of this election is going to have a massive effect on the inhabitants of the capital. Therefore you might assume that London’s sensitive housing crisis, the failing transport infrastructure, the obvious inequalities and the worryingly high poverty levels all to have featured prominently in a well-fought contest for City Hall. However, this has not actually been the case. Instead, the mainstream media have decided to focus on Khan’s supposed “links” to terrorists and not his policies in regards to the problems outlined above. With every passing day the public are fed with a new far-fetched story about Khan, as if this peaceable, moderate man has a hidden agenda to blow up the buses and tubes that he wishes to run. This media coverage is ridiculous and beyond offensive, it highlights the bias that the mainstream media has against Muslims running for public office. It is not only Khan’s policies that have been overlooked in favour of personal attacks. Zac Goldsmith’s personal fortune, something he has always been honest about, has also been victim of media scrutiny. It would appear that the political classes are more interested in the Tory candidate’s personal fortune and not the more important political fortunes that he possesses.
However, it is not just the mainstream media that can be accused of turning this important election into a personal and vindictive campaign. Zac Goldsmith has highlighted the religion of Khan on more than one occasion and has criticised him for sharing platforms with suspected Islamaic extremists. In an interview with Evening Standard, Goldsmith accused Khan for giving “platform, oxygen and cover to people who are extremists”. Goldsmith attacked Khan for sharing a platform with a cleric from Tooting, Suliman Ghani, who is said to be opposed to homosexuality and views women as “subservient”. The Tory candidate questioned Khan’s decision to speak at an event that included the cleric that Goldsmith described as “one of the most repellent figures in this country”. However, this soon backfired after it emerged that Goldsmith himself, actually posed for a photograph with the cleric. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has supported Goldsmith on several occasions. He even used a Prime Ministers’ Questions to repeat such allegations against Khan, claiming that the Labour candidate had shared platforms with extremists “again and again and again”. The Prime Minister argued “if we are going to condemn not just violent extremism but the extremism that seeks to justify violence in any way, it is very important that we do not back these people, and we do not share platforms with them.” This could be seen as slightly hypocritical from a man that attended a conference of evangelical Christians in east London, hosted by the Reverend Adeboye, in April last year. The Rev. Adeboye is well-known for championing Nigeria’s attempt to outlaw homosexuality, in particular the 2014 Same-sex Marriage Prohibition act, which carries a ten year jail sentence. He also promotes belief in witchcraft, which has led to people being murdered, including children in London.
Many people have argued that Zac Goldsmith has been using the politics of division and fear to defeat his rival Sadiq Khan. The high-profile Labour MP, Yvette Cooper, has been very vocal in her criticism of Goldsmith’s campaign. In an article in The Times, she accused the Tories of running an unfair campaign against Khan. Ms Cooper wrote of the Conservative candidate: “With each day, the smears and innuendos get louder. Now the Cabinet is joining in, trying different ways to link Sadiq to Islamist extremism based on no evidence at all. We can’t let this go by- it’s time to call it out for what it really is before it gets worse. What started as a subtle dog-whistle is becoming a full blown racist scream.” There was even a rare intervention from the former Labour leader, Ed Miliband, who condemned Zac Goldsmith. Miliband said “I thought Zac Goldsmith was better than this gutter Lynton Crosby politics – and you can tell he doesn’t really believe it.” Khan himself even described Goldsmith’s campaign as “desperate and negative”, likening the Tory campaign to Trump’s in America. Khan suggested there was “a clear choice” at the election on 5 May. “A choice between the politics of division and fear that has defined the Tory campaign, or the politics of unity, hope and opportunity that has defined mine. The Tory view of politics is all about division and fear.” If elected Khan promises to build London Living Rent homes where the rents are a third of local wages, freeze public transport fares for four years, promote the London living wage and set up a not-for-profit letting agency.
Goldsmith has been quick to dismiss the claims that he is racist or that he has been running a negative campaign. He has described the claims as “absurd” and told the Huffington Post that he has been running an “overwhelmingly positive” campaign. Whilst discussing the claims made by Yvette Cooper he said “If she is making reference to the questions asked about Sadiq Khan’s past and his links then is she suggesting it’s not legitimate to ask those questions for someone who wants to be Mayor of London?”. Goldsmith also cautioned voters not to let Labour “lefties” back into City Hall and said the Khan-Corbyn project would damage the capital. In his manifesto, Mr Goldsmith promises to bring 500,000 jobs to London, build 50,000 homes a year and freeze mayoral council tax. Talking to Sky News, he said: “I’m determined that all Londoners should enjoy our city’s success, which is why I will freeze mayoral council tax and create jobs. “Under Boris we have recovered from Labour’s great recession, and my action plan for Greater London will build on that success and secure half a million more jobs for Londoners.”
However, Goldsmith’s plea not to elect Khan does not seem to be working. The latest YouGov poll, which shows how Londoners will actually vote, shows that the Labour candidate has stretched his lead over Goldsmith to 20 points. Khan has increased his lead over Goldsmith, his closest rival, after distributing second preferences, according to the YouGov poll. When London goes to the polls, voters will be given a first and second preference. The election works under a supplementary vote system, this means that if no candidate wins a majority of votes after all the first choices are counted, the top two candidates proceed, and the second votes of everyone whose first choice was eliminated are then counted. This means that voters’ second choices are actually incredibly important. YouGov believes that Labour is building on its core vote in London, and this is further pushed forward by national Conservative unpopularity. So it looks incredibly likely that London will have its first Muslim mayor on Thursday.