What’s really strange is Khan looks a better bet
SO FAR the London mayoral election has attracted the attention only of die-hard politicos, but with fewer than 100 days to go to polling day, it’s about to get more interesting.
The choice between Labour’s Sadiq Khan and Conservative Zac Goldsmith provides Jewish voters in the capital with something of a predicament.
The broken, bitter relationship between the community and Labour — which seemingly hit rock-bottom at last May’s general election after five years of Ed Miliband’s leadership — has plummeted further since Jeremy Corbyn grabbed control of the party.
Mr Goldsmith could be expected to seize on this and, coupled with his proIsrael stance and Jewish background, secure the backing of Jewish voters.
Yet on the current evidence, it is Mr Khan who has made the most attractive approach.
In interviews I’ve conducted with the two candidates, I’ve seen a hunger and will-to-win from one man, and an insouciant, laid-back almost to the point of being horizontal, approach from the other.
Mr Khan is determined to lead London after May 5, and unless Mr Goldsmith gets his campaign into gear quickly, it will be the red flag flying over mayor HQ on the bank of the Thames.
Speaking to me last September, Mr Khan outlined a detailed knowledge of London Jews’ concerns – distancing himself from toxic former mayor Ken Livingstone, dropping names of his Jewish friends and backers, and explaining how his Muslim faith makes him aware of shared issues such as religious slaughter, circumcision and concerns about coroners and burial.
Cynics might sneer at him breaking his Ramadan fast in synagogues, or at what seems an overly-enthusiastic approach to interfaith work. But he is willingly doing all those things, and has been for a long time. It is not just campaign fodder, it is borne out of an apparently genuine desire, and his past position as Communities Minister.
It is not hard to see through a politician’s weak hand and Mr Goldsmith has not yet provided any developed thought on what exactly he would do for London’s Jews. Is he poorly briefed? A bad media performer? Perhaps. But it really does not take much to trot out some well-rehearsed lines on areas of communal concern. Even if you cannot do it convincingly (see the aforementioned Mr Miliband), you can at least try. Remember, Mr Goldsmith also has the weight of arguably the most philosemitic government in the past three decades behind him.
Charming, urbane, a safe pair of hands. All of this may be true of Mr Goldsmith, but when repeated probing reveals no depth of knowledge on key Jewish issues, should we not be concerned?
Whoever wins, the next London mayor will be a clear departure from the administrations of Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson. This time it is political, not personal.
Still scarred by the Livingstone years, the communal tendency may be to take an anti-Corbyn view and back Mr Goldsmith en masse. But with Mr Khan pulling ahead with the bookies and pollsters, Mr Goldsmith’s self-confessed slow start may mean it is already too late for him to stop Mr Khan heading for City Hall.
Gripping? Zac Goldsmith and Sadiq Kahn’s battle is about to get serious