I was in London over the weekend, on the eve of Sadiq Khan’s victory, and the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Sadiq Khan, the son of Pakistani immigrants, charismatic, suave and secular, was elected the Mayor of London, after a grueling and ugly campaign against the former mayor Boris Johnson supported, Etonian Zac Goldsmith. Aristrocratic and uptight Goldsmith, started the campaign after accusing Khan of being an Islamist sympathizer. It wasn’t easy for Labour, being beset with internal squabbles and a bland leadership, which almost relegated the party to a sideshow and a mere spectator in the ongoing Brexit debate, where the biggest arguments are happening between and within the Tory ranks, between PM David Cameron who is supporting an In campaign, and the rebels led by Boris Johnson. Boris was also an extremely popular mayor, having overseen London turn to a financial capital of Europe beating Frankfurt, and host a tremendously successful Olympic games.
But Goldsmith, compared to the erudite Boris, was an obnoxious candidate, smug and cold and boorish, and that reflected in the campaign when he tried to gain on the xenophobic and anti-migrant sentiment with a streak of racism against Khan. It didn’t help the Tories as they are themselves in a civil war, and Goldsmith is in the Brexit rebel club, alongside Johnson, which means he didn’t have the full backing and support and groundwork help and effort from Tory volunteers.
In this toxic scenario, Sadiq Khan is a whiff of fresh air. Son of Pakistani immigrant of humble and modest origin, he is a brilliant speaker, and is considered an able administrator. He is also the modern pragmatic wing of Labour, and alongside Chuka Umunna and Liz Kendall, is considered as the future leadership contenders. He made his vision for Labour clear in a clear oped in Guardian, stating, and I quote, “Labour was founded to make the lives of working people better and to create more opportunities for everyone. Whether it’s aspiring to work as a nurse in a hospital, or setting up and running your own business, Labour should be about ensuring fairness, so that everyone has the same chance in life to reach their goals”. He visited Jeremy Corbyn and informed him that ideology is not the be all and end all of politics, and that there is no good in a “glorious defeat”. This comes at a time, when Khan seriously tried to distance himself from the growing anti-semitism in labour ranks, especially by some of those close to Corbyn, like former London mayor Ken Livingstone. He also replied to US Presidential candidate Donald Trump’s Ban Muslims comment, when Trump said that Khan might be an exception in entering US. Khan tweeted, “Trump’s ignorant view of Islam could make both our countries less safe. It risks alienating mainstream Muslims. London has proved him wrong.” The other Presidential Candidate, Hillary Clinton, however congratulated Khan on his win. On the eve of Holocaust celebration, Khan tweeted, “At Yom HaShoah commemorations today. So important to reflect, remember and educate about the 6 million Jewish lives lost in the Holocaust.” Within two days of his election, he has made a profound tangible change in the culture, that now the Tories are debating within themselves, how the racist pre-election attacks against Khan was disgraceful. The Mayor of Tel Aviv has also invited Khan to visit Israel.
The change in London can be felt. My Greek bus driver, a middle aged lady couldn’t contain her excitement when she teared up saying how this election might change London again. She said, while Boris did a lot for London, the xenophobia or Eastern Europeans, and the Islamophobia towards refugees was a constantly growing on the right, just as anti-semitism was growing on the left. The Chinese restaurant I had lunch in had Labour flags and Khan’s posters in the backyard. Khan seemed like he would possibly be the uniter everyone needs in this giant cosmopolitan city. He has fought for human rights and worker’s rights for decades, and the biggest benefit is he is practical, pragmatic, not bogged down ideologically. Channeling Deng Xiaoping, who said it doesn’t matter what colour the cat is, as long as it can catch a mice, Khan can be a good administrator in a city which is in severe need of affordable housing, among other things.
Finally, and this is important, Khan can be an idol for British and European Muslims. During a time, when thousands of second generation disgruntled European Muslims are lured into the false thrill of ultraviolence and misogyny of Islamism, Khan can prove to be the other side of the coin. It is possible that he might turn corrupt or incompetent, or there can be a complete policy paralysis like Obama’s second term as US President. But, a humble man, who by virtue of his quality can rise to the top, and can be open minded enough to try to unite Jews and Muslims, refugees and Brits, protesters and businessmen, is the perfect hero Labour, England, and Europe needs and can look up to.
Hopefully this time Labour won’t ruin this moment, like they usually do.