Sadiq Khan’s election as London mayor is a victory for Labour but his vision for the party and his plans for the capital city currently fall short
Having fought a bruising campaign against Zac Goldsmith in a battle that even Katie Hopkins thought was incendiary, Sadiq Khan is now the most powerful office holder in the Labour fold. His election, alongside that of Malia Bouattia to the leadership of the NUS, has extrapolated the role of Muslims in British public life to a new dimension, even if the overshadowing of policy by a focus on religious origin reveals a tireless obsession with the ethnic ‘other’.
These elections were ostensibly a litmus test to determine the effectiveness of Jeremy Corbyn as the leader of the Labour party. Instead of the near 200 seats that the pollsters predicted Labour would lose, Labour lost only 23. This is by no means a great result for an opposition party against a government that has been incumbent for six years and is deeply unpopular. But Labour has increased its vote share in England by 1-2 per cent from the general election of 2015 and gained 8-9 per cent greater than when council elections were held in 2008 with Gordon Brown as prime minister, while holding on to almost all the gains made by Ed Miliband when the seats were contested in 2012. Add to this the victory of Labour’s Marvin Rees in the mayoralty of Bristol, a black man in charge of a city that made its wealth through slavery, and one is left with the impression that these elections were not the catastrophe that the Blairites are still trying to paint it. As Gary Younge put it, they testify that Jeremy Corbyn is indeed a viable leader.
Labour did disastrously in Scotland. This is a generational shift that Corbyn seems unable to change, and it cannot be analysed from the prism of electoral politics as they play out in England. However, Labour will struggle to win the general election in 2020 if their fortunes north of the border stay as they are. Instead, Britain’s two major parties will probably have to get used to a decreasing share of the vote as the UK continues to fragment into different voting blocs. Corbyn’s critics from within his own party are not about to be silenced, however much damage they do themselves in the process. Although the Lib-Tory coalition of 2010-15 was hardly a positive precedent, we may be looking at the possibility of a Labour coalition with Greens, SNP and Plaid in the future. For now at least, Labour should recognise that, electorally, things have only got better since the damaging general election of 2015.
Sadiq Khan’s victory has been hailed as a triumph for the politics of British values over the politics of fear. In the last Prime Minister’s Questions before the mayoral elections, Prime Minister David Cameron repeatedly insisted that Sadiq Khan had shared platforms with extremists, in an attempt to reinforce the now infamous Islamophobic smear campaign by Goldsmith. In doing so, he also falsely accused London imam, Suliman Gani, of supporting Daesh which turned out to be a ‘venomous’ calculated lie. All six times that he rose to respond to Jeremy Corbyn, he referred to Corbyn’s own affiliations with ‘extremists’. As such, London’s resounding rejection of such inflammatory rhetoric is both momentous and reassuring. It was also heartening to hear Sadiq Khan remind his electorate that he was the son of a Pakistani bus driver, therefore representing London beyond the Westminster bubble. Having also managed Ed Miliband’s Labour leadership campaign in 2010 to an astonishing victory, it is clear that Sadiq Khan is a seasoned winner. Labour’s core vote has remained intact despite the rank disunity in the party, stoked by an ideologically-driven media to the right of Labour.
Despite these strides, we must acknowledge that the new mayor’s vision for London is not beyond criticism. Welcoming more armed police in the capital and silencing non-violent forms of protest like the BDS movement in the UK are certainly not progressive moves and point to his conformity with the city’s elitist establishment. In addition, Khan’s call for ‘big tent’ politics reminiscent of the Blair-era is somewhat troubling. He used his first few public statements to bemoan campaigns which take an ‘us and them’ approach, as well as a Labour leadership which only appeals to ‘activists’ – thereby deepening tales of a rift between himself and Corbyn. He went further by calling on his own party to get into the ‘habit of winning’ without quantifying how this may hollow out Labour’s core principles.
In response to this, it must not be overlooked that just like Khan’s 57 per cent mandate in London, Jeremy Corbyn won the Labour leadership election of 2015 against overwhelming odds. Corbyn’s vision for the party has to be enacted if Labour is to secure a viable future as a party of the left. Many Labour activists who consider Khan as tainted by his Westminster affiliations and misinformed statements still voted for him, because the mayoral elections emerged as a referendum on Corbyn’s leadership. Accordingly, Corbyn’s contribution to Khan’s votes needs this cognisance and Khan must be a force to enact the powerful anti-austerity message that marks the Labour leadership.
Corbyn’s vision for Labour has the potential to affect long-term change for both the party and the country, and this should not be curtailed within the limits of the electoral cycle. For Labour to win they must demonstrate that they are the real change, avoid unnecessary PR disasters, tackle any possibility of antisemitism and racism, and engage more with the voters – particularly in light of the rabid onslaught from a right-wing media machinery. Meanwhile, Khan must stand with us for a moment and really question the purpose of a party which is electable but unprincipled and regressive.
The Platform Editorial Team
Image from: http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article4508386.ece
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