By Hasina Momtaz
London; a dynamic, world class city with over 8.5 million people and the first city in the UK to have voted for a directly elected Mayor. Back in 2000, Ken Livingstone made history by becoming the first Executive Mayor and took over the reins of the capital as an Independent. Eight years and two terms later, he was succeeded by Boris Johnson, who now sits at the top of the ‘glass testicle’, as it was famously referred to by his predecessor, and runs the capital from his office overlooking Tower Bridge on one side and the affluent City of London from the other.
Whilst both men came from very different class backgrounds and political ideologies they both share one thing in common; they are both white.
According to the 2011 Census, there are more than 4.5 million people in London who belong to a BME group.
Since the 2001 Census the overall BME population in London has increased from around 1 in 7 to 1 in 5.
London has always been a melting pot of cultures, races and religions and it is generally seen as one of its biggest strengths. So is it now time for Londoners to elect a BME Mayor?
Simon Woolley from Operation Black Vote (OBV) thinks so. Earlier this year, he wrote on his blog that “Selecting a BME Mayor would send a global message that London and the UK is one of the most progressive, cultural, and energised places in the world”.
As well as race, religion is being highlighted by one of the frontrunners for the role.
Sadiq Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting and Shadow London Minister, thinks that it’s time for a Muslim Mayor and has already put his hat into the ring by seeking his parties’ nomination. In a recent interview with the Guardian newspaper, he said “The idea that the Mayor of London could be son of an immigrant, son of a bus driver, ethnic minority – and by the way, of Islamic faith – would speak volumes”. Speaking to the Jewish News he said he’ll “never stop fighting racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism”.
In the 2011 Census, Christianity was the largest religion across England and Wales, with 33.2 million people (59.3 per cent of the population). The second largest religious group were Muslims with 2.7 million people (4.8 per cent of the population).
Of that, London had the highest proportion of Muslims (12 per cent), Hindus (5 per cent), Jewish (2 per cent) and Buddhist (1 per cent). Christians make up 48 per cent of people in the capital.
Hot on the heels of Sadiq Khan is another fellow Muslim, Syed Kamall, the Conservative MEP for London, who thinks that he should be selected for the most powerful political role in London. Incidentally, both men are the sons of immigrants, both their fathers were bus drivers and both came up through the ranks from humble beginnings.
Speaking to me, Syed Kamall, said: “When Margaret Hodge MP withdrew as a candidate for the London Mayor earlier this year, she explained that she thought the time was “right for us to have a non-white mayor” Margaret, who is the Chair of one of the House of Commons most powerful select committees, the Business Affairs Committee says that a mayor from a different background would have the potential to transform London.
“I’d like to thank Margaret for her kind endorsement! However, the mayor should be determined on ability as much as anything else. One of the many attractive things about our wonderful city is its diversity. In order to reflect that diversity, the only qualification to be the Mayor of London should be a love for our city and a willingness to try and make London a better place for people who live and work here – no matter their roots – as well as the millions of tourists who visit us each year.
“My father came to London in the 1950s to work on the railways and then as a London Bus Driver, so I appreciate that those striving to do better from minority communities can relate to candidates such as myself. Equally, I would like everyone in London to do well. I have been proud to represent the people of London, the great City in which I grew up in the European Parliament as our MEP and it would also be a great privilege to serve all Londoners as Mayor of London.”
The Mayor sets the overall vision for London and has a duty to create plans and policies for the capital covering key areas including transport, business and economy, housing, policing and crime, planning, regeneration, young people, the environment and inward investment amongst other priorities. It is a huge brief and he is responsible for an annual budget of £17 billion to help him deliver his priorities and run City Hall. Engagement with ethnic minority communities in a city where over 300 different languages are spoken, tackling issues such as rising Islamophobia and Anti-Semitism are also critical aspects of the role.
Whoever is elected would yield tremendous power in shaping this city in the years to come. So what do Londoners think about this?
Meenakshi Raman, HR Manager, 34, thinks “Race is irrelevant. Voting should be based on the candidate’s ability to unite the city and represent us all. London needs a conscientious, capable and intelligent Mayor who will drive evidence-based policies forward to improve the health and lives of all Londoners and not just the privileged few”.
Vance Duhaney, 43, Communications Consultant at Barclays, said “London is a great city and deserves a Mayor of equal standing. The question for me is not the race or religion of the new Mayor but their ability to harness the riches of our diversity and culture whilst ensuring our financial status is used not only to build infrastructure but also to build lives and have the vision, empathy and courage to develop a fair, dynamic and cohesive community”.
Naz Kabir, Events and Exhibitions Producer, 40, said “I do not believe that the next Mayor of London or any other UK city should be Asian or Muslim. For me it’s not about the cultural or religious background of the Mayor that makes him or her suitable candidate. The Mayor should be chosen strictly on ability, experience and suitability for the role. Someone that understands the needs of ordinary Londoners and what it takes to live a comfortable life and co-exist in a melting pot of cultures and is not afraid to take on big business and get a fairer deal for the working classes. For me, that has to be someone who was not born into privilege or wealth and has faced the same struggles as the rest of London’s vibrant communities”.
According to Rosamund Kissi-Debrah, Transformation Leader at the Ella Roberta Foundation charity “The Mayor of London should reflect the racial make-up of London. We are now in 2015 and we in the BME community need to show we are a force to be reckoned with. This is our country and we are here to stay”.
So that’s what Londoners think. What do you think? Is race and religion irrelevant? Do you think the Mayor of London should be elected on ability alone? Or do you think that someone from a BME background better reflects the population make-up of the capital and it’s time for Londoners to elect a BME Mayor? Do you agree with Sadiq Khan that London needs a Muslim Mayor?
Share your thoughts. #BMEMayorforLondon