Ugly London: The Mayoral Race

What a disaster for the conservatives, though hardly a glory for British Labour either. Sadiq Khan, a Labour technocrat rinsed in the chummy spinelessness of the Blairite spin machine, won the London Mayoral election after a campaign that could only be described as vicious. The Tories had hoped to sink Khan over alleged extremist tendencies; Labour, in turn had to show that the Tories had their own problem with conservative religious practices.

The Tories were also hoping that disagreement within Labour’s ranks over what Prime Minister David Cameron has termed Labour’s “problem with anti-Semitism” would somehow render it unelectable in various constituencies. London was to be the prize, having been held by conservative, mostly clownish Boris Johnson for two terms.

The Achilles heel of anti-Semitism was given a rub by former Mayor Ken Livingstone, who opened his sizeably confident mouth again, coming to the defence of Naz Shah, an MP from Bradford West. Shah was suspended over designated anti-Semitic postings via social media.

On BBC Television’s Daily Politics program, Livingstone contended as a “historical fact” that, “Hitler’s policy when he first came to power was to move Germany’s Jews to Israel.” At stages, history does have a habit of discolouring under the Livingstone gaze.

The Labour Party’s response was swift: “Ken Livingstone has been suspended by the Labour Party, pending an investigation, for bringing the party into disrepute.” John Mann, another Labour MP, also attacked Livingstone with apoplectic determination, calling him a “Nazi apologist”.

The conservative campaign, fronted by Zac Goldsmith, attempted to capitalise. Goldsmith’s accusation – one can hardly call it an argument – was that Khan had given “platform, oxygen, and cover” to a host of political and religious extremists. Specific reference was made to the political flirting Khan had with south London cleric Suliman Gani.

The honours list of defences and associations also comprised such figures as Dr. Yusuf al-Qadarawi, a Muslim scholar accused of intellectualising the moral cause of suicide bombings, and Sajeed Abu Ibrahim, who operated a Pakistan camp that trained London 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan.

Such behaviour on Khan’s part would confuse unadulterated opportunism with genuine association, a point made by his attendance of an event hosted by the defunct Stop Political Terror in August 2004. For those interested in political trivia, the group did count among its supporters Anwar al-Awlaki of al-Qaeda.

Through his time, Khan has done what he is most characterised by: associate, garner, and cultivate votes, many from the conservative Muslim quarter. It was precisely this point that got some conservative commentators worked up, with The Economist recapitulating on Labour’s “ingrained problems of anti-Semitism” and its tolerance of “gender-segregated civic events”.

A campaign so filled with muck it was keeling over saw a range of attacks mounted against Khan on various grounds, though many conservatives were far from thrilled by this approach. Conservative London Assembly member Andrew Boff, for one, found it “outrageous” that Goldsmith had effectively argued that “people of conservative religious views are not be trusted, and you shouldn’t share a platform with them”.

Toby Young, writing in The Spectator, saw no reason for Goldsmith to apologise. Young found it regrettable that Labour’s spin on the campaign being a “dog-whistle” one in nature proved digestible even to Tories.

Did it have any effect on Khan’s chances of re-claiming the city for Labour? “Any Conservative candidate faced an uphill struggle getting elected in London, one of the only areas in the country where Labour did better in 2015 than in 2010.”

Goldsmith’s campaign was itself marred by ambiguities, despite having a potentially strong case in such areas as the environment. (He had formerly edited the Ecologist Magazine.) Rather than taking the road of painting Khan as an unreliable extremist that would mar his mayoral credentials while offering a slew of ameliorative policies for London’s escalating house prices, he resorted to some ducking, weaving and prevaricating.

While the Goldsmith manifesto did reflect on how there were “too many young adults still living in their childhood bedrooms trapped by London’s escalating house price,” the overall message fell away. A rather unimaginative campaign began casting light on Khan’s Muslim background in general, a point that was never going to sell well.

The other feature at play with Khan’s victory is how his cool relationship with British Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn will develop – or atrophy, as the more likely case is. Corbyn had maintained is distance from the political knife of Khan’s ambitions, preferring to spend time with Bristol’s newly elected mayor Marvin Rees instead of going to the London swearing-in ceremony.

Khan, who was never a fan of the Corbyn dynamo in Labour politics, could not have been expecting any favours from a man he ignored, only to then nominate as an outside contender for leader.

Not even waiting for the dust to settle, the newly elected leader trained his guns on Corbyn, thereby doing the conservative’s work for them. On the Andrew Marr Show, he claimed that, “we’ve got to stop talking about ourselves and start talking to citizens about issues that matter to them.” The Tories may not have reason to be disappointed for too long – the spin doctors getting ready to return.

More articles by:

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne. Email: bkampmark@gmail.com

Weekend Edition
March 23, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Roberto J. González
The Mind-Benders: How to Harvest Facebook Data, Brainwash Voters, and Swing Elections
Paul Street
Deplorables II: The Dismal Dems in Stormy Times
Nick Pemberton
The Ghost of Hillary
Andrew Levine
Light at the End of the Tunnel?
Paul de Rooij
Amnesty International: Trumpeting for War… Again
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Coming in Hot
Chuck Gerhart
Sessions Exploits a Flaw to Pursue Execution of Meth Addicts
Robert Fantina
Distractions, Thought Control and Palestine
Hiroyuki Hamada
The Eyes of “Others” for Us All
Robert Hunziker
Is the EPA Hazardous to Your Health?
Stephanie Savell
15 Years After the Iraq Invasion, What Are the Costs?
Aidan O'Brien
Europe is Pregnant 
John Eskow
How Can We Live With All of This Rage?
Matthew Stevenson
Why Vietnam Still Matters: Was Khe Sanh a Win or a Loss?
Dan Corjescu
The Man Who Should Be Dead
Howard Lisnoff
The Bone Spur in Chief
Brian Cloughley
Hitler and the Poisoning of the British Public
Brett Wilkins
Trump Touts $12.5B Saudi Arms Sale as US Support for Yemen War Literally Fuels Atrocities
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraqi Landscapes: the Path of Martyrs
Brian Saady
The War On Drugs Is Far Deadlier Than Most People Realize
Stephen Cooper
Battling the Death Penalty With James Baldwin
CJ Hopkins
Then They Came for the Globalists
Philip Doe
In Colorado, See How They Run After the Fracking Dollars
Wilfred Burchett
Vietnam Will Win: Armed Propaganda
Binoy Kampmark
John Brennan’s Trump Problem
Nate Terani
Donald Trump’s America: Already Hell Enough for This Muslim-American
Steve Early
From Jackson to Richmond: Radical Mayors Leave Their Mark
Jill Richardson
To Believe in Science, You Have to Know How It’s Done
Ralph Nader
Ten Million Americans Could Bring H.R. 676 into Reality Land—Relief for Anxiety, Dread and Fear
Sam Pizzigati
Billionaires Won’t Save the World, Just Look at Elon Musk
Sergio Avila
Don’t Make the Border a Wasteland
Daryan Rezazad
Denial of Climate Change is Not the Problem
Ron Jacobs
Flashing for the Refugees on the Unarmed Road of Flight
Missy Comley Beattie
The Age of Absurdities and Atrocities
George Wuerthner
Isle Royale: Manage for Wilderness Not Wolves
George Payne
Pompeo Should Call the Dogs Off of WikiLeaks
Russell Mokhiber
Study Finds Single Payer Viable in 2018 Elections
Franklin Lamb
Despite Claims, Israel-Hezbollah War is Unlikely
Montana Wilderness Association Dishonors Its Past
Elizabeth “Liz” Hawkins, RN
Nurses Are Calling #TimesUp on Domestic Abuse
Paul Buhle
A Caribbean Giant Passes: Wilson Harris, RIP
Mel Gurtov
A Blank Check for Repression? A Saudi Leader Visits Washington
Seth Sandronsky
Hoop schemes: Sacramento’s corporate bid for an NBA All-Star Game
Louis Proyect
The French Malaise, Now and Then
David Yearsley
Bach and the Erotics of Spring