BY Itrat Bashir

In an intense race at the polls on Friday 6 May, Sadiq Khan of the Labour Party defeated his close rival Zac Goldsmith of the Conservative Party on Friday and became the first Muslim Mayor of London.

Verified provisional votes on Friday afternoon showed a split of 44 percent Labour and 35 percent Conservative votes for the mayoral candidates, with the Green Party coming in third with six percent of the vote. The announcement was eventually finalised early on Saturday morning, following counting discrepancies which pushed the race late into Friday evening. The final count showed that Sadiq Khan secured 1.30143 million votes, while Zac Goldsmith bagged a total of 994,644 votes.

After months of intensive campaigning, and in some instances heated on both sides, Sadiq Khan ended the eight-year rule of the Conservative Party over the British capital.  45 year old Khan is one of eight children and son of an immigrant Pakistani father, who drove London buses.

He was first elected MP of Tooting in 2005, and prior to this was a councillor in the London Borough of Wandsworth from 1994 to 2006.

On Thursday, Londoners went to the polls to replace the outgoing London Mayor Boris Johnson of the Conservative party. Twelve candidates were in the race for the top of slot in London: Sian Berry (Green Party); David Furness (British National Party); George Galloway (Respect); Paul Golding (Britain First); Zac Goldsmith (Conservative); Lee Harris (Cannabis is Safer Than Alcohol); Sadiq Khan (Labour); Ankit Love (One Love Party); Caroline Pidgeon (Liberal Democrats); Sophie Walker (Women’s Equality Party); Peter Whittle (UKIP); and Prince Zylinksi (Independent).

Of the total 14 Constituency Assembly seats, the Labour Party held on to its 7 seats: Brent and Harrow, City and East, Ealing and Hillingdon, Enfield and Haringey, Greenwich and Lewisham, Lambeth and Southwark, Barnet and Camden, and North East. Labour also gained the seat of Merton and Wandsworth, which was previously held by the Conservatives.

Meanwhile, apart from losing one seat to the Labour Party, the Conservatives managed to hold on to five of their seats won four years ago, including Bexley and Bromley, Croydon and Sutton, South West, West Central and Havering and Redbridge.

Zac Goldsmith
Zac Goldsmith

It has been a hard fought fight between Khan and Goldsmith. Both had a similar agenda for the next four years and the housing issue was on their top priority. However, for many months Khan had been leading the polls and Goldsmith was not that far behind.

However, some political experts have expressed opinions that race and religious card used by the Goldsmith camp backfired against them. They were of the view that this created resentment amongst a section of the Londoners against the Conservatives and led them to instead vote for Khan, who otherwise would have gone for any other third candidate.

It may be recalled that in an attempt to neutralize the advantage Khan has in the Asian community for being an Asian Muslim himself, the Conservatives approached the Asian voters by distributing leaflets in Urdu, Hindi, Punjabi, Bangla and Mandarin languages among them.

Moreover, Goldsmith indulged in a dangerous game of implicitly labelling Khan of having links with Islamic extremists and calling him ‘radical and divisive’. The Conservatives tried hard to convince Londoners that the British capital is not safe under Khan’s leadership. The political pundits believe this backfi red, with several including Dr Andrew Mycock of the University of Huddersfield calling it ‘distasteful and possibly damaging’.

Sadiq Khan has however, officially made history as the first ever Muslim mayor of London. The mayoral candidate himself tweeted on 5 May to his supporters: ‘A huge thank you to everyone who voted Labour, volunteered today or campaigned with us. #TeamKhan’.