Editorial: Khan victory shows new face of Britain


The election of a candidate of Islamic Pakistani extraction as mayor of London is a proud moment for Britain and the inclusion of minorities in its politics. It is a credit to London voters who are not predisposed to Labour candidates, as evident by Boris Johnson's long tenure, now finished.

New mayor Sadiq Khan did not have an easy campaign. Previously a South London MP, his Conservative opponent for the mayoralty made much of Mr Khan's occasional associations with Islamic extremists, though they seemed tenuous. He has attended gatherings addressed by hard-line clerics or organisations now banned.

As he explained, politicians do not always have the luxury of vetting who else might be speaking at public events. He could have added that politicians from ethnic or religious minorities are not doing their job unless they speak at these sort of gatherings where they represent a democratic alternative to alienation and terrorism. The attempt to tar Mr Khan with an extremist brush appears to have backfired on the Conservatives.

One former party chairman described it as an "appalling dog whistle campaign" that "lost us the election, our reputation and credibility on issues of race and religion".

Mr Khan's success was the exception to dismal local elections for the Labour Party, whose campaign was hounded by charges of anti-Semitism. Another Islamic MP, Naz Shah of Bradford West, was suspended for a Facebook post two years ago that suggested Israel could be located in the United States. It is a familiar argument of Arab nationalists who still resent the loss of Palestine, but in the heat of the election campaign it was portrayed by Labour's critics as another leftward lurch under its leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Mr Khan's record suggests he is not an ideologue either in an Islamic sense or in left-wing politics. He was one of the MPs who nominated Mr Corbyn for the leadership after the last election, which helped him get the party's nomination for the London mayoralty a few months later. But since then he has distanced himself from the struggling Labour leader on Middle Eastern and domestic issues. His record in Parliament suggests he is as "flexible" or opportunist as the next person in politics.

But there is no doubt that in winning the London mayoralty, he has given Britain's ethnic minorities their most prominent elected position so far. He represents the political emergence of the new face of Britain. It ceased to be a monochrome society many decades ago, as any visitor could attest. Mr Khan grew up on a council estate, the son of a bus driver and a seamstress from Pakistan, the fifth of their eight children.

He has won a position that has a tradition of fairly independent, not to say eccentric, political characters. Before Mr Johnson there was Labour's "Red Ken" Livingston. It will be interesting to see whether Mr Khan uses the mayoralty of London to promote himself or particular causes. The margin of his win is said to be the largest personal mandate of any politician in the UK's history. Some are calling it a pivotal moment in British politics. It is a credit to that country.

Debate on this article is now closed.

- NZ Herald

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