BY Itrat Bashir
London Mayoral Elections are just around the corner and if the recent polls, conducted by ComRes on the behalf of the ITC and LBC, are accurate then London will make a history by electing its first Muslim mayor on May 5.
The Labour candidate, Sadiq Khan is on course to get elected as the first Muslim Mayor of London, but Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith is not that far behind in the polls. According to the survey, ‘Sadiq Khan remains ahead of Zac Goldsmith in the race to be Mayor of London’. This only reaffirmed the poll carried out by a major survey firm YouGov last month that placed Khan ahead of Goldsmith, and thus he is likely candidate to replace Boris Johnson.
According to the ComRes poll, “the Labour candidate received 44 percent of first round preferences, two points higher than in the last ComRes poll for ITV News and LBC in March. Zac Goldsmith is on 37 percent, two points lower. While these differences are within the margin of error, it supports the trend that Khan is ahead with a month to go. After second preferences have been re-allocated, Khan leads Goldsmith 55 percent to 45 percent”.
Interestingly, in the polls the Londoners found Khan a more passionate candidate than his main rival Goldsmith; 39 percent perceive the son of a Pakistani immigrant a passionate person as compared to 31 percent believed that this applied to the posh kid of London. However, the polls suggested that ‘there is little difference in the perception of Goldsmith’s and Khan’s characters, with similar proportions of Londoners saying both candidates are capable, extreme, trustworthy and boring’.
Over the past weeks, both candidates have intensified their election campaigns to the extent of making statements that go beyond the issues (housing, transport, etc.) cared by the Londoners.
Feeling the need to capture the Asian votes and at the same time neutralize the advantage Khan has in the Asian community for being an Asian Muslim himself, the conservative party sent out leaflets in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla and Mandarin languages to pitch their candidate.
Moreover, Goldsmith indulged in a dangerous game of implicitly labeling Khan of having links with Islamic extremists and calling him ‘radical and divisive’. Referring to his campaign for a British citizen, Babar Ahmad, to be tried in the UK for terrorism offences, rather than extradited to the US, he accused Khan for ‘giving platform, oxygen and cover’ to extremists. Again, in another incident, he accused his main rival candidate for sharing a platform with ‘rigid cleric’ Suliman Gani, an imam from Khan’s Tooting constituency, something which was also alluded to by the Prime Minister in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions.
It seems that the Conservatives are trying hard to convince Londoners that the British capital is not safe under his leadership. A senior Cabinet member, Michael Fallon also launched an attack on the Tooting MP saying he was ‘unfit’ to be a mayor of London for having shared a platform with radicals. The Defence Secretary called him “Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists”.
In response, Khan accused Goldsmith of giving hype to Islamophobia to his advantage. On twitter, he maintained that he will be a mayor of all Londoners and security of London is one of his top priorities. He saw the recent attacks by his opponents as desperate measures to win the elections.
In Khan’s defence, a former Labour cabinet minister, Yvette Cooper lashed out at the Conservatives. In her recent article, she said that “the Goldsmith campaign is increasingly resorting to disgraceful, divisive tactics as the polls show the Tories falling further behind. Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle is becoming a racist scream.”
Meanwhile, to win over the votes of the Pakistani community in London, Goldsmith turned to charisma of his sister’s former husband Imran Khan. The former Pakistani cricket legend and chief of Pakistan Tehreek Insaaf (PTI) has a huge following among the British Pakistani diaspora. Thus, during his previous visit to London in March, Imran Khan was seen with Goldsmith campaigning for the election in the Pakistani dominated areas.
Imran Khan even twitted to endorse Goldsmith’s mayoral bid. He said, “Zac Goldsmith is running for Mayor of London. He is an honourable man with strong convictions and compassion. Zac is a man of integrity with a commitment to justice. He has the leadership capabilities to make a great mayor.”
Meanwhile, the latest move by the Green Party of not officially endorsing either the candidates of the Conservative and Labour parties could give an edge to Goldsmith. Following its meeting last Tuesday, the London Federation of Green Parties announced that it cannot make a positive recommendation for either Khan or Goldsmith as an option for green voter’s second preference in the election for mayor. It was expected that the Green Party would support Labour by recommending Khan as second preference.
Interestingly, no Mayor of London has ever won a majority vote on first preferences and in three of the four previous elections London Green Party decided to recommend that its supporters back Ken Livingstone – as an Independent in 2000 and as the Labour candidate in 2008 and 2012 – as the best choice for the second preference votes of its supporters.
In a statement, the Federation said, “Unfortunately, neither Zac Goldsmith nor Sadiq Khan has ruled out major road building, which would create more congestion and pollution. Nor have they ruled out airport expansion, which will make noise, pollution and climate change worse. Despite their promises to act on London disastrous housing market, neither the candidates are offering specific promises to reverse the proposed loss of 7,000 council homes from demolition schemes already in the planning pipeline. These backward steps are unacceptable.”
Sian Berry, Green candidate for Mayor of London, said that she knows her supporters will have their own thoughts about who will get their second preference vote. “However, Goldsmith and Khan have both failed to provide the guarantees that they will not make a bad situation worse in London either by increasing pollution with new roads and expanded airports or making the housing crisis even worse with the loss of thousands of council homes in estate demolitions,” she added.
With just over two weeks to go until the Londoners go to the ballots, the campaign will definitely further intensify. If Khan and Goldsmith want to cross the finishing line with triumph, then they need show sincerity in resolving the problems of Londoners rather than making the election campaign a theatrical stage for mudslinging.