Sadiq Khan: London’s First Muslim Mayor

Dr. Mozammel Haque

British Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan becomes the first Muslim Mayor of London after defeating his Conservative opponent Zac Goldsmith on 5th of May, 2016. Khan has made history by being elected first Muslim Mayor of London. Khan gained 1.3 million votes more than his two predecessors when you take into accounts the first and second preferences. People are saying that the voters gave biggest personal mandate in the electoral history. Khan’s 13.6% margin of victory over Goldsmith is the widest in 16 years. Conservative candidate Goldsmith came second in London’s mayoral race. Khan’s win ends the eight years of Conservative control of London. Khan’s victory not just the voters’ rejection of Conservative negative campaign, but giving their endorsement to Khan’s policy and programme of housing, transport and policing.

It means Britain has its first directly-elected Muslim Mayor. It is an invaluable antidote to identity politics. It shows that the world’s most multi-cultural city has found someone who can reflect the way it self-identities. Let us start from the beginning: the mayoral contestants, their background, their campaign and the results of the mayoral race before going into new Mayor’s swearing-in ceremony; his speech and other issues and lastly, the responses of the British people, including Muslims and that of the press.

Mayoral Contestants

Sadiq Khan, 46, is a son of a Pakistan immigrant – grown up in council estate. He is former human rights lawyer and former Transport Minister under Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Labour government in 2009.

On the other hand, Zac Goldsmith, is Conservative Party member, multi-millionaire who inherited most of his wealth from his father who was a businessman. Goldsmith attended Eton College which educated 19 British Prime Ministers. He is tall, handsome and rich with Christian and Jewish roots.

Negative and divisive campaign

Goldsmith is accused of running negative campaigns against Khan. Goldsmith and his Party accused of racist and Islamophobic campaign against Khan. Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign linked Sadiq Khan to ‘Muslim extremists’. During the campaign, the Tories tried to paint Khan as a radical, suggesting he had questions to answer because he had shared platforms with extremists in the past and defended them in his time as a human rights lawyer. Critics have accused Goldsmith of attacking Khan for his Muslim faith.

The Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, who described Khan during the mayoral election campaign as a “Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists”, repeatedly refused to say whether he was worried about Khan’s election and the safety of Londoners during an interview on Radio 4’s Today programme.

Evening Standard, an increasingly farcical Tory mouthpiece which insulted the people of London by claiming: “This paper has done its best to be even-handed over the course of this campaign.”

The decency of Tories like Peter Oborne – who called the campaign “repulsive” – and former Tory candidate Shazia Awan – who called it “racist” – shone through. But they were a small minority. Now senior Tories are condemning the campaign as “poisonous” and as “outrageous”. Too late. The damage is done. And by condemning any alleged anti-Semitism on the left, and staying silent about anti-Muslim prejudice on the right, they reveal they have no interest in fighting racism. For the Tories, racism is a convenience: a hammer to batter their opponents with, or to exploit for political advantage.

Khan tackled his campaign with a focus and detail that left the Tories’ Zac Goldsmith looking ineffectual and ill-defined. Goldsmith’s team ran a repellent and now much criticised operation that, especially as victory slipped from their grasp, descended into a dirty slur and innuendo offensive against Khan as a Muslim and his past as a human rights lawyer. The ground operation was relentlessly amplified by the prime minister in the Commons, even on the eve of polling.

Election Results

Mr Sadiq Khan, the Tooting MP secured 57% of votes in the Mayoral contest once second preferences were taken into account. He beat Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith by a total of 315,529 votes when the second preference votes were counted and reallocated. He received a total of 1,310,143 votes, higher than for any previous London Mayor. This amounted to 57 per cent of the total final votes to Mr Goldsmith's 43 per cent (994,614 votes). The capital had its largest ever turnout at 45.6 per cent, up from 38 per cent in 2012. Mr Khan's victory ends eight years of Conservative leadership at City Hall, under Boris Johnson.

Most striking victory

The victory of Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London is a triumph for a tolerant, open and diverse London. Mr. Khan’s victory was a triumph not just for the values of tolerance and openness but for social justice, as he stood, more emphatically than his opponent, for spreading the benefits of London’s prosperity to all its citizens. His victory is most striking because his is still the most powerful directly-elected office in the country and his victory is most striking because it is for the symbolism of electing the Muslim son of an immigrant bus driver that Mr Khan’s victory is most striking. 

First most powerful politician in Europe

Khan is the first in so many respects. He is the most powerful Muslim politician in Europe, has taken charge of £17bn budget, with responsibility for transport, housing, planning and the police and fire services. He is the first person from an ethnic minority to hold the post. This result gives a powerful message for the London’s 44% BAME population - no matter your race, religion or class; you too could become the most powerful directly-elected politician in the country.

London is now the first major Western city to elect a Muslim Mayor. Mr. Khan is the most powerful directly-elected politician in Europe, the third biggest personal mandate in the EU, after the presidencies of France and Portugal. Chris Murray wrote, “Sadiq Khan is now in charge of Europe’s biggest city, a global metropolis home to people from all over the world.”

London’s First Muslim Mayor

Swearing-in ceremony

Sadiq Khan is the first Muslim to hold the post of Mayor in the European capital city. He won against his Conservative rival Goldsmith who used sinister smear campaign against him linking Khan with the Islamic extremists. Khan defeated his opponent who was accused of the divisive, nasty and negative campaign who linked Khan with the Islamist extremists.

After thumping victory over Zac Goldsmith, Khan commanded largest personal votes in British politics. London’s first Muslim mayor Sadiq Khan chose deliberately and very consciously Southwark Cathedral venue for his swearing-in ceremony; to show the feeling of unity and demonstrate solidarity with the diverse Londoners. “Yesterday, in a multi-faith ceremony at Southwark Cathedral, Sadiq Khan was sworn in as the Labour mayor of London, the first Muslim to hold such office in a major European capital. It is an important moment,” wrote The Sunday Times in its editorial comment. (Corbyn can’t win but Sadiq Khan can do better, The Sunday Times, 8 May, 2016)

Writing about the victory of Sadiq Khan in the mayoral election, Bagehot wrote in the Economist, “Eventually, every senior politician in Britain is invited to Buckingham Palace to join the Privy Council, the body that notionally advises the queen. In 2009 Sadiq Khan, then transport minister, was asked on which version of the Bible he wanted to swear his oath. He replied that, as a Muslim, he would like to use a Koran. Buckingham Palace had none, so he brought his own. Afterwards, when the palace tried to return it, he asked: “Can I leave it here for the next person?”” (Economist, 14 May, 2016)

Sadiq Khan’s first speech as Mayor of London

It is not only important but most significant and historic to document the first speech of a Muslim Mayor of the great City of London. His message to the Londoners is clear: “I am determined to live the most transparent, engage and accessible administration London has ever seen. I represent every single community and every single part of our city as Mayor of London.”

He said, “Son of a bus driver from a council estate child of an immigrant is now the Mayor of this great City of London.”

Mr. Khan, as Mayor of London said, “Labour has won control of City Hall in London for the first time in eight years – the first major electoral success for our party in England in over a decade.”

“I am deeply humbled by the hope and trust that Londoners have placed in me. I grew up on a council estate just a few miles from City Hall and I never imagined that Londoners would one day elect someone like me to lead our great capital city,” he said.

Mr. Khan said, “My promise now is to govern in the interests of all Londoners as a strong, pragmatic and independent-minded leader of our city. In planning my programme for the next four years, I have one burning ambition for London that will guide every decision I make – ensuring that all Londoners can have the same opportunities to get on in life that London gave me. Everyone – regardless of their background, wealth, race, faith, gender, sexual orientation or age – should be able to fulfil their potential and succeed.”

“Throughout my campaign, we focused on the issues that Londoners care about most – the lack of affordable housing, transport infrastructure and fares, the NHS, the need for real neighbourhood policing and pro-business policies. It might seem like stating the obvious, but offering solutions to the challenges most people face every day is the only way to win elections. How can you expect to enthuse an undecided voter, or persuade a previous Tory voter, if you can’t gain their trust on the key issues, or you don’t want to talk about what they care about most?” he said.

Mayor of London, Mr. Khan mentioned, “In London from the start we had a 32-borough strategy: I spent as much time in Bromley, Richmond and the City as I did in Hackney, Southwark or Camden. My slogan was “A Mayor for all Londoners”. It should never be about “picking sides”, a “them or us” attitude, or a having a political strategy to target just enough of the population to get over the line. Our aim should be to unite people from all backgrounds as a broad and welcoming tent – not to divide and rule.”

“It’s also why the Conservative mayoral campaign was so disappointing. I was looking forward to a good honest campaign, debating how we best tackle things like the housing crisis, high transport fares and air pollution. But David Cameron and Zac Goldsmith chose to set out to divide London’s communities in an attempt to win votes in some areas and suppress voters in other parts of the city. They used fear and innuendo to try to turn different ethnic and religious groups against each other – something straight out of the Donald Trump playbook. Londoners deserved better and I hope it’s something the Conservative party will never try to repeat,” Mr. Khan mentioned.

Speaking about his future programme, Mr. Khan said, “Over the next four years, I will work tirelessly to bring communities together and deliver my Labour manifesto for all Londoners. Over the same period, it’s crucial for the whole country that the Labour party becomes a credible government-in-waiting.”

Politics of Divisive negative campaign

Khan mentioned about the election campaign by the Conservative party. It is interesting to bring out reaction and responses some of the Tory party members who were disgusted by the way election campaign was conducted by the Conservatives. Critics, including Conservatives, said that Goldsmith damaged the party’s reputation on race and religion.

Mr Goldsmith’s sister, Jemima Khan

His own sister, Jemima Khan, the journalist and campaigner, took to twitter as the result became clear on Friday night, to criticise her brother’s campaign and claim it “did not reflect who I know him to be”. She wrote: “Sad that Zac’s campaign did not reflect who I know him to be – an eco-friendly, independent-minded politician with integrity.” Ms Goldsmith was previously married to the Pakistani politician Imran Khan. She converted to Islam before the marriage, from which she has two children.

Mr. Amin, Conservative Muslim Forum

In his article, Mohammed Amin, chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum, said that even as a Conservative member of over 30 years, he was so “disgusted with the tone” of the Goldsmith campaign and his "repeated, and risible, attempts to smear Sadiq Khan” meant that he stopped canvassing for the Tory candidate after January 2016. “We were meant to understand that Khan kept bad company with extremist Muslims and could not be trusted with the safety of London,” Mr Amin wrote.

“On top of that, leaflets were targeted specifically at London Hindus and Sikhs, superficially about Khan’s tax policies, but clearly seeking to divide Londoners along religious and ethnic lines.”

The work done by David Cameron to “detoxify” the brand of the Conservative party had also been “imperilled” by the Goldsmith campaign, Mr Amin wrote. 

Ken Clarke

Former Chancellor Ken Clarke suggested that either the media or “some misguided advisor” bore responsibility. “I don’t know how far Zac ran it,” Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Any Questions. “But the likelihood was every Muslim in London would be turned out to vote for the other side and a lot of metropolitan people in London who have perfectly civilised; one-nation Tory views thought this was rather startling.” 

Baroness Warsi

Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, wrote in her twitter: “Our appalling dog whistle campaign for LondonMayor2016 lost us the election, our reputation & credibility on issues of race and religion.”

In contrast to Goldsmith, Khan’s campaign was positive and inclusive, based around his promise to be a mayor “for all Londoners”. Khan may not be the type of politician to engender warm, fuzzy feelings in the electorate – his triumph is not Obama in 2008 – but his calm and grace in the face of Goldsmith’s attacks have been truly admirable.

Comments on Election Result

Commenting on the mayoral election results, Mr. Chris Murray wrote, “London is now the first major Western city to elect a Muslim mayor. At a time when the role of Muslims in Europe is contested, the third biggest personal mandate in the EU, after the presidencies of France and Portugal, is now held by the Muslim son of immigrants. This is no small step. But after such a divisive campaign, there is no room for complacency.”

“Sadiq Khan is now in charge of Europe’s biggest city, a global metropolis home to people from all over the world. Fostering cohesion and making immigration work will be a key part of his new job. Making more Londoners citizens would be a good place to start,” Mr. Murray observed.

Marina Hyde wrote in The Guardian, “Peter Oborne classed the Conservative mayoral strategy as bearing comparison with the nakedly homophobic push against Peter Tatchell in Bermondsey in 1983, and the notoriously foul 1964 Smethwick campaign in which the Tory slogan was “If you want a n***** for a neighbour vote Labour.” As Andrew Boff, leader of the London Assembly’s Tory group, remarked tartly of the Goldsmith campaign’s tactics after the polls had closed: “I don’t think it was a dog-whistle because you can’t hear a dog-whistle.””

Newspapers’ Editorial

London’s daily newspapers carried out special editorial on this occasion. The daily Independent editorially wrote: “this time Zac Goldsmith tried to make a coded connection between “Muslim” and “terrorist” and the voters of London told him to get lost.  Mr Khan, on the other hand, ran a good, confident campaign and deserved to prevail. His victory was a triumph not just for the values of tolerance and openness but for social justice, as he stood, more emphatically than his opponent, for spreading the benefits of London’s prosperity to all its citizens.” (Editorial, Independent, 7 May, 2016)

Writing editorially, The Guardian observed, “A diverse electorate has not been subject to subliminal dog whistles, but rather screaming wolf whistles – including newspaper articles about Labour’s Muslim candidate illustrated by the exploded bus on 7/7, and shameful prime ministerial denunciations of past associates who shared Mr Khan’s faith, but not his politics. The capital, though, has turned away from the politics of divisive reaction, and instead made its decision on the basis of who it trusts to tackle this grotesquely unequal city’s grave and gritty problems, most particularly with housing. But in the process, by electing a Muslim to one of the highest-profile political offices in Europe, London has unwittingly drawn the eyes of the world to the incoming administration.” ( Editorial, The Guardian, 6 May, 2016)

Bagehot wrote in Economist, “London’s election was strikingly normal. The capital is a conventional Labour city and Mr Khan a conventional Labour politician. His win was merely the natural order of things. Mr Goldsmith’s hints about his rival’s links with reactionary Muslims—which in defter hands might have raised valid questions about Mr Khan’s willingness to flex his principles to suit his electorate—looked crass and crazed. They had little effect. More interested in Mr Khan’s pledge to let them change buses without paying extra fares, Londoners rolled their eyes, voted Labour and inadvertently made history. To veterans of the capital’s politics the most interesting thing was not the election of a Muslim but the signs that Mr Khan did better than Labour usually does among white suburbanites and that Mr Goldsmith (despite his best efforts) benefited from the ongoing structural rise in the non-white Tory vote.” (Bagehot, Economist, 14 May, 2016)

Those papers not only celebrated the outcome of the election result, but they also advised the new Mayor of London about his responsibilities and duties. The Independent editorially observed, “Much also depends on how Mr Khan performs in office. In France and the US, city, regional or state government is an accepted route to the highest office. If you've been a fine Mayor of Paris or effective Governor of Texas or Arkansas you can rightly aspire to national leadership. So for his sake and that of his party, and indeed his city, Mr Khan might be well advised to just get on with the job. If he achieves things, his time will come.” (Editorial, Independent, 8 May, 2016)

Similarly, The Observer observed editorially, “In London, Sadiq Khan is to be congratulated for his historic win: London’s first Muslim mayor has Britain’s largest-ever popular mandate. His victory confirms London as a Labour city, confident enough in its diversity to rebuke the divisive, sectarian campaign run by Zac Goldsmith. Khan has cemented his reputation as a formidable campaigner: he now needs to prove himself as a mayor who can deliver on London’s housing crisis and its overcrowded transport system.” (Editorial, The Observer, 8 May 2016)

Similarly, Bagehot observed in Economist, “As mayor, Mr Khan has a unique platform, not confined to the city or even Britain, that he should use to promote a pluralistic sort of nationhood, ease tensions between ethnic and religious groups and highlight failures and successes of integration. Donald Trump will probably lose to Hillary Clinton. But his final defeat, in Britain at least, will come when Mr Khan’s copy of the Koran in Buckingham Palace is well-thumbed—and no one cares.” (Bagehot, Economist, 14 May, 2016)

The Sunday Times in its editorial comment wrote: “Mr. Khan, having won a decisive victory which he described as one “for hope over fear and for unity over division”, now has to demonstrate that he is the right man for the job. That means assembling a strong team and it means working with this government.”

“Mr. Khan also needs to demonstrate more clearly than he has done so far who he is and what he stands for,” wrote editorially. (Editorial Comment, The Sunday Times, 8 May 2016.)

British Muslims’ Response

It is quite natural to enquire about the response of the British Muslims on the success of Sadiq Khan to be the newly elected Mayor of London City. There is a mixed reaction and response. The daily Guardian has carried out an interview with the British Muslims. (‘What Sadiq Khan's election means to British Muslims,’ The Guardian, 7 May, 2016). Followings are some excerpts of the response:

What Sadiq Khan's election means to British Muslims

As London’s first Muslim mayor takes office, we hear from British Muslims about its significance to their communities

Navid Akhtar, 48, London:

“I am hoping that Khan’s appointment will be positive for the Muslim community and we will see this as a chance to reach out to our neighbours, who are curious about our faith and open to finding out about our everyday life as Muslims. Within wider society I hope his position will reaffirm that Muslims are no different to anyone else in terms of their wish for peace, mutual respect and prosperity.”

Sajadah Tariq, 45, Nottingham:

Khan won because of his policies, not because he is Muslim

“Islam should never have been on the agenda in this campaign, as Zac Goldsmith’s faith was never mentioned. Faith should not matter, diversity is essential. We should focus on politics and Khan won because of his policies, not his faith. I hope during his time as mayor Khan lives up to his word on housing, and transport. I hope he unites London. This should be his legacy, not the fact that he is Muslim – that is insignificant.”

Ali Jaffery, 58, Cardiff:

I hope that Khan will improve race relations

“To me the first Muslim mayor means that in mature democracies there is no room for identifying a human on grounds of faith, race or ethnicity. I hope that Khan will improve race relations, and keep London moving by cutting down transport fares, as well as help tackle the housing crisis. I would like Khan to approach British Muslims with positive thinking and formulate a policy to educate the police authorities, teaching them not to consider all Muslims as terrorists by default.”

Dawood Gustave, 49, London: I want him to be a mayor for all Londoners

“London and its pluralism means it is a beacon of hope for the world. I voted for Khan; I am the son of immigrants and from a council estate myself. Self-made and with compassion, he represents a view of modern caring capitalism that London can represent if we can address our inequality problem. I hope the mayor will achieve what he said he would, and provide hope and unity. I want him to be a mayor for all Londoners.”

Zainab Kidwai, 32, Derby:

Khan’s attitude throughout his campaign has been phenomenal

“It’s a very proud moment for Muslims in the UK and the world. It shows that there is still trust among world citizens in Islam and Muslims. That “we” are as normal as anyone else. Khan’s attitude throughout his campaign has been phenomenal – he never gave up and kept pursuing his dream. I hope he is able to do a fantastic job for London and its citizens by continuing to make it into a leading world-class city where everyone and anyone feels welcome.” 

Suhaib Qazi, 31, London:

I don’t think he fully represents Muslim feeling in the city

“From a purely Muslim perspective, I would like to see him tackle the rising level of Islamophobia that we have seen in recent times, particularly on public transport where mainly women have been targeted. There is a huge sense of fear among Muslim women now, particularly those wearing hijab/niqab and so it needs to be addressed.
Sadiq Khan's London win is an exciting departure for British politics.”