There was too much unsavoury, divisive and even racist commentary about Sadiq Khan’s religion during the recent London Mayoral election. Much of this came from the Conservative campaign and the mass newspaper print media supporting it. It is understandable that since his election, the lead introduction to Sadiq Khan continues to be ‘first Muslim Mayor’ of London. However, we have only ever had 3 elected Mayors of London and each has run on a different ticket: an Independent, a Conservative and now Labour. This focus on Sadiq Khan’s religion overshadowed his real story: that of running the most positive campaign, articulating the issues which resonated with the vast majority of Londoners and reaching out to non-traditional Labour or Sadiq Khan-esque supporters. More disappointingly, the focus on his religion has eclipsed his victory over a plague that continues to shame Britain – namely a lack of social mobility.
At a time when power still remains in the hands of a privileged few and preference often rules merit, it is great to see the UK have its own ‘American dream’ story in Sadiq Khan. His is a story of the rise of a man from less-privileged circumstances (a council estate, working class family, different cultural background) who has achieved his position based on hard-work and merit, not preference or privilege, and who embodies British values (however romantically we choose to articulate those values).
The Rt Hon. Alan Milburn who chairs the Commission on Social Mobility and Child Poverty states that Britain is and remains deeply elitist. Those at the top of society or, as I call them, the ‘gatekeepers’ are drawn from an incredibly narrow background: men who are white, from privileged and wealthy families, who had every advantage in early life, generally attended private schools as full-fee paying pupils, then went on to Oxbridge or other Russell Group universities and were aided in job hunts by relatives and family networks.
The Commission’s research shows that “it is entirely possible for politicians to rely on advisors to advise, civil servants to devise policy solutions and journalists to report on their actions having all studied the same courses at the same universities, having read the same books...” and once again generally drawn from that incredibly narrow background: men who are white, from privileged and wealthy family backgrounds (regardless of whether the Bank of Mum or Dad was onshore or offshore).
Much of the negative campaigning and coverage of the Mayoral elections can be explained by this inherent bias. Indeed, when you’re accustomed to privilege, preference over merit, silver spoons (onshore or offshore) or special treatment then equality, open competition and fairness feels like oppression at worst and just plain unfair at best!
We know that excluding a diversity of qualified talents and broad experiences makes Britain’s leading institutions less informed, less representative and ultimately less credible than they should be. Draw your leaders from a narrow pool and there is a significant risk that they’ll focus on their own agenda and lose touch with everyday folk. We Londoners didn’t, on the whole, care about the gender, race or any other physical diversity aspect of the Mayoral candidates as long as they campaigned for the issues (housing, transport, infrastructure and crime) that affect the majority of those hard-working citizens who were born in, live in, work in or visit London and bring us together. That’s what Sadiq Khan ‘got’ about the Mayoral role and that’s why he triumphed.
London has, yet again, turned its back on division, hate and preference, embracing unity, difference and merit. Londoners lived through the German blitz of World War II. We lived through more than three decades of Irish Republican Army terrorism from 1970-2001. We lived through various other acts of terror such as neo-Nazi bombs targeting ethnic minorities and gay Londoners in 1999. We lived through the Al-Qaeda islamist extremist 7/7 bombs in 2005, the UK’s worst terrorist incident since the 1988 Lockerbie Pam Am airline bomb. Throughout, we remain strong, united and bound by a collective desire to move this great city forward.
Having visited over 75 countries and 300 cities, I will say that London is the greatest city in the world and always moving forward. Yes, I am biased. I am also privileged to have been born in this wonderful city, grow up on a council estate, be embraced by the rich diverse community and progress through school, university and life with all the opportunities that London provides.
I thought that the prize for the best congratulatory message for Sadiq Khan on the night of his election victory (6th May) must go to Sajid Javid MP, The current Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills and Cabinet member, who echoed a joke from Sadiq Khan’s campaign. Sajid Javid tweeted: “.@Sadiq Khan from one son of a Pakistani bus driver to another, congratulations.” Nice touch! I, myself, have sent my congratulations by way of a message: 'from one south London council estate boy to another, congratulations... social mobility in action'.
Can I also ask that can someone write a song about London to capture its togetherness, raw power and inspiration like Jay Z and Alicia Keys did for our kindred spirit, New York? “...concrete jungle where dreams are made of. There's nothin' you can't do... These streets will make you feel brand new. The lights will inspire you...”
Maybe Sadiq Khan has yet another hidden talent?!
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