Lon­don­ers vote for di­verse (co)ex­is­tence

Pakistan Observer - - INTERNATIONAL - YOSSI MEKELBERG [Yossi Mekelberg is an As­so­ciate Fellow at the Mid­dle East and North Africa Pro­gram at the Royal In­sti­tute of In­ter­na­tional Af­fairs, Chatham House, where he is in­volved with projects and ad­vi­sory work on con­flict res­o­lu­tion, in­clud­ing Trac

FAIR play is one the char­ac­ter­is­tics Bri­tish peo­ple are very proud of. How­ever, this sense of fair play was miss­ing from the Lon­don may­oral elec­tion cam­paign, which ended last Thurs­day with a very impressive vic­tory for the Labour Party’s can­di­date Sadiq Khan. The smear cam­paign against him by his main ri­val, Zac Gold­smith of the Con­ser­va­tive Party and other right wing par­ties, was re­pul­sive with its Is­lam­o­pho­bic in­nu­en­dos. Mer­ci­fully, this did not de­ter Lon­don­ers from elect­ing a Mus­lim, who grew up on a coun­cil es­tate in Toot­ing, to the high­est po­si­tion in the city—un­prece­dented in any Western cap­i­tal.

The son of a bus driver and seam­stress, who em­i­grated from Pak­istan, is en­ter­ing his new po­si­tion with a mas­sive per­sonal man­date con­sid­er­ing the more than 13 per­cent mar­gin of his vic­tory. This must be also con­sid­ered as a tes­ti­mony to the po­lit­i­cal ma­tu­rity of Lon­don vot­ers, who re­jected the pol­i­tics of fear of the other and elected the per­son who they con­sider the best for the very com­plex job of run­ning the Bri­tish cap­i­tal. May­oral elec­tions are tra­di­tion­ally fought over lo­cal is­sues such as hous­ing, trans­port, ed­u­ca­tion, crime and even en­vi­ron­men­tal is- sues. How­ever, this Lon­don may­oral elec­tion was un­usual from the on­set in the sense that there was more to it than the typ­i­cal lo­cal con­cerns of or­di­nary cit­i­zens. It had to do with the two main can­di­dates them­selves as much as the gen­eral po­lit­i­cal, so­cial and eco­nomic at­mos­phere in Bri­tain and the rest of the Euro­pean Union.

One could not imag­ine two more dis­sim­i­lar can­di­dates than Khan and Gold­smith. One epit­o­mises the Lon­don that has evolved since the end of the Sec­ond World War.

Khan’s route (thus far) to the top rep­re­sents so­cial mo­bil­ity, es­pe­cially for new­com­ers that hardly ex­isted be­fore the in­tro­duc­tion of the wel­fare state. It en­abled some­one from hum­ble so­cio-eco­nomic be­gin­nings to gain an ed­u­ca­tion and com­plete a law de­gree, while at the same time stay­ing true to his up­bring­ing and val­ues. The elec­tion of Khan to this pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal po­si­tion is even more sig­nif­i­cant, con­sid­er­ing the wider de­bate on mi­gra­tion in the Euro­pean Union and the forth­com­ing Brexit ref­er­en­dum Khan’s choice to pur­sue a ca­reer first as a hu­man rights lawyer, and then as an MP for the very con­stituency he was born and grew up in, are clear ev­i­dence of hold­ing steadfast to his roots and val­ues. His life’s path has been in com­plete con­trast to that of Mr. Gold­smith. Gold­smith, who is one of the wealth­i­est mem­bers of the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment, mainly in­her­ited from his late fi­nancier father, and was ed­u­cated in very pres­ti­gious in­sti­tu­tions in­clud­ing Ea­ton Col­lege. This is not to sug­gest that in any shape or form Gold­smith’s back­ground should au­to­mat­i­cally make him an in­fe­rior can­di­date to lead such a com­plex and multi-eth­nic city. How­ever, it seems that af­ter eight years of a very sim­i­lar pro­to­type, in the im­age of Boris John­son, Lon­don­ers opted for some­one who could re­late to the daily chal­lenges faced by or­di­nary cit­i­zens in this in­trigu­ing cap­i­tal. Un­af­ford­able hous­ing, over­crowded schools and a con­gested trans­port sys­tem are af­fect­ing more or­di­nary wage-earn­ing cit­i­zens and mi­nori­ties, than those who come from priv­i­leged back­grounds. Re­vul­sion against slur: The mar­gin of vic­tory for Sadiq Khan also re­flects the re­vul­sion, by large parts of the Lon­don pop­u­la­tion, of the un­der­handed anti-Mus­lim slur cam­paign by Gold­smith and other right wing can­di­dates. It even an­gered a num­ber of mem­bers from his Con­ser­va­tive party, who found it shame­ful and out­ra­geous. In his des­per­a­tion, Gold­smith re­sorted to the spread­ing of fear, warn­ing that vot­ing for Khan would com­pro­mise Lon­don’s se­cu­rity in the face of ter­ror­ist threats, though he had no shred of ev­i­dence to back up his claim. Khan was “guilty” by as­so­ci­a­tion both be­cause he shared a plat­form dur­ing de­bates with rad­i­cal Is­lamists, and for de­fend­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists dur­ing his time as a hu­man rights lawyer. These al­le­ga­tions are ab­surd by na­ture, and an ob­vi­ous at­tempt to ex­ploit the fear fac­tor in a city, which is on high ter­ror­ist alert for quite a long while now.

Any­one who has en­gaged in pub­lic de­bate has ex­pe­ri­enced at times fun­da­men­tal dis­agree­ment with fellow pan­elists with whom she or he shared a stage. It is ac­tu­ally re­garded as good prac­tice in a plu­ral­ist so­ci­ety to de­bate with those with whom one dis­agrees. More­over, tak­ing is­sue with de­fend­ing sus­pected ter­ror­ists in court, is con­tempt­able and bizarre in equal mea­sures in a coun­try which gave the world the Magna Carta eight hun­dred years ago. Ev­ery­one is en­ti­tled to le­gal rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and if Khan’s ori­gins had not been Mus­lim, this sort of de­nun­ci­a­tion would have never been lev­eled against him.

In a city in which nearly thir­teen per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion is Mus­lim, and 44 per­cent black and eth­nic mi­nori­ties, such a move was in­ex­cus­ably di­vi­sive, not to men­tion an act of po­lit­i­cal sui­cide. Larger is­sues: —Courtesy:

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