Khan election win would send powerful signal to all Muslims

London Letter: Labour’s candidate for mayor is a modern, pluralist, British Muslim

Labour’s candidate for mayor of London Sadiq Khan  with supporters in Brixton, south London:  he would be the first Muslim to hold such a high-profile political office in Britain. Photograph:  John Stillwell/PA Wire

Labour’s candidate for mayor of London Sadiq Khan with supporters in Brixton, south London: he would be the first Muslim to hold such a high-profile political office in Britain. Photograph: John Stillwell/PA Wire

 

As the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union sucks most of the oxygen out of British politics, voters throughout the country face elections next week which have the potential to shape the political landscape for years ahead.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland elect national parliaments or assemblies; England votes for local councils and police commissioners; and London elects a new mayor and assembly.

Turnout will be low in most parts of the country, not least because next Thursday’s elections are being fought in a mostly desultory fashion.

You can walk across much of central London without seeing a single poster for the two leading mayoral candidates, Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith. Last time, when Boris Johnson was challenged by his predecessor Ken Livingstone, just 38 per cent of Londoners bothered to vote. Next week, it is likely to be fewer still.

In Scotland, the Scottish National Party (SNP) occupies such a commanding position that the retention of its overall majority at Holyrood is a foregone conclusion.

The battle is for second place, with the Scottish Conservatives’ energetic leader Ruth Davison hoping to humiliate Labour by pushing the once-dominant party in Scotland into third place.

Wales, like Scotland, has a hybrid electoral system but the share of seats allocated according to a regional list is smaller, making it less proportional. This is likely to favour Labour, which is set to lose a significant share of the vote while retaining almost all its seats in the assembly – and its leading role in government. The greatest imponderable in Wales is the performance of the United Kingdom Independence Party (Ukip) which has gained support in recent years among the economically disappointed and “left behind” throughout the principality.

Shoot itself

Neil HamiltonMark Reckless

Ukip’s amateurish party structure is likely to depress its performance in local council elections in England, but the focus there will be on Labour. Traditionally, parties which lose a general election go on to make gains in subsequent local elections and that has been true even in Labour’s darkest hours in the past.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s enemies in his parliamentary party, who number all but a handful of MPs and peers, have suggested that anything less than an increase of a few hundred council seats will be a catastrophic defeat.

Polls predict that the party will lose between 150 and 200, an outcome Corbyn’s allies are spinning as a normal correction after an unusually good result in 2012.

Corbyn will be able to absorb losses across the country if Khan succeeds in winning the mayoralty of London for the first time since 2004. The fundamentals are good for Labour, which won 300,000 more votes in London than the Conservatives in last year’s general election.

Like Johnson, Goldsmith is an Old Etonian, but they share little else in common. The son of controversial billionaire James Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate is a diffident figure who has made his name as an environmentalist and a man of principle who has promised to resign as an MP if the government approves a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

Bus driver’s son

Khan is currently almost 20 points ahead in opinion polls but the Conservatives have a secret weapon in the campaign: ruthlessness. Goldsmith has run a campaign of personal vilification against Khan, using the Labour candidate’s record as a human rights lawyer to suggest that he has consorted with extremists.

Like Goldsmith, but unlike most other Conservative MPs, Khan voted in favour of same-sex marriage, and faced death threats from actual extremists on account of it.

The Labour candidate is the embodiment of a modern, pluralist, British Muslim and an emblem of his country’s tolerant, multicultural society, which is matchless in Europe.

Khan’s election in London would send a powerful signal of hope to Muslims throughout the world.

A success for Goldsmith’s shameful, unprincipled tactics would do just the opposite.

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