Khan versus Goldsmith: Does either have a vision for London?

For Sadiq Khan, the son of a bus driver - a line deployed perhaps cynically, and at every opportunity by the MP for Tooting to appear like the humble candidate - the opportunity to be the Mayor of London will be a dream come true, by no stretch of the imagination. Having had the responsibility of running Ed Miliband’s campaign in last year’s General Election, Khan was potentially facing political oblivion. The Labour party was at a crossroads of whether or not it should lurch closer to the right, or to rediscover its leftist past, and amongst this was the possibility that the Labour centrists could be all but wiped as a result of the internal crisis the party was now facing. In fact, the lack of a challenge put up by fellow centrists Andy Burnham and Yvette Cooper can be seen as evidence of this.

Perhaps then, it was no surprise that Khan was enthralled by the prospect of running to be Labour’s candidate in the mayoral election. This was his chance to offer his vision for London. Rather than be left shouting from the side-lines, he now had the platform to express his views, and having served as Shadow Minister for London since 2013, the stage was set for him to start giving some answers.

But politics is fickle, and it is worth questioning whether or not Khan has made it this far because of his vision for London. Any Labour candidate should go into any kind of election held in London as favourite to some degree, as London predominantly votes Labour. Not only this, but Khan’s trouncing by 59% to 41% of the one-time overwhelming favourite for Labour’s candidacy, Tessa Jowell, showed that the party membership wanted change.

When Jeremy Corbyn was elected party leader, Khan as one of the MPs who had put Corbyn on the ballot paper, was naturally seen as Corbyn’s man, even though David Lammy and Corbynite Dianne Abbott may have felt like they deserved similar treatment. It is therefore surprising that Khan has tried so hard to hard to avoid being labelled with the Corbynite tag. Khan has been vocal in his condemnation of the Labour leadership as berated Corbyn for refusing to sing the National Anthem, while criticising the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, for his links to the IRA. Moreover, if Khan wins in the Mayoral election, it is possible that he has done so with the electorate not actually knowing what he stands for. Having said that, the same can be said for his main rival.

According to the polls Sadiq Khan will secure an overwhelming victory, but the British electorate know all too well that the polls can be wrong

Zac Goldsmith, the Conservative candidate, has been widely derided, even by members of his own party for running a campaign far beneath of what should be expected from an intelligent member of the political class, but where has it all gone wrong? Goldsmith could have fought his Labour opponent on the issues, had he wanted. Transport and housing policy are high on the list for Londoners, and it’s important to remember that while polls say that Londoners feel Sadiq Khan offers a more coherent vision on these issues, there are serious flaws in Khan’s prospectus in both areas. Goldsmith, if he wanted to, could have offered a conservative approach to answering the current crises facing London. In Goldsmith’s defence, the housing crisis, for example, has been worsened by his own government, so perhaps he knows he won’t be able to change a thing in this regard. So instead, Goldsmith’s campaign has been centred on slanderous, and frankly wrong allegations, on Sadiq Khan’s political allegiances. As a footnote, it’s worth remembering that George Galloway, Respect’s candidate for mayor, has also been trying to smear Khan, though to Labour centrists, being smeared by George Galloway is a medal of honour.

Goldsmith has alleged that Khan is a friend and apologist for "extremists" and cannot therefore be trusted to run a great city like London, all because he has shared a platform with Sulaiman Ghani, despite the fact that Ghani has often issued support for the Conservative party.

It is incredibly frustrating for the people of London to witness this dog-whistle campaign as they sit idly-by as their issues and worries are ignored. The average Londoner will have no idea what you are talking about if you ask them about Zac Goldsmith’s plans make London the greenest city on earth by launching a crackdown on fly-tipping and litter. Goldsmith has also promised to make it easier for Londoners to recycle with a common set of London-wide collection standards, while he has said he will guarantee protection for the Green Belt. Since he set-about carrying out this dog-whistle campaign against Sadiq Khan, these promises will have fallen on death ears. It is therefore ironic, that despite my objections to Goldsmith, that by listing some of his election promises I have now done more positive campaigning for Zac than he has done himself.

The polls suggest that Goldsmith’s campaign will not work, and if that is the case then it will presumably be safe to say that his career as a political heavyweight has ended before it really began. To be known as a racist, fear-monger is a tag that will be very hard to shake off in a liberal society. However, it would be naïve to write-off Goldsmith’s chances at this stage.

According to the polls Sadiq Khan will secure an overwhelming victory, but the British electorate know all too well that the polls can be wrong. This is not a criticism of the polls in any sense. Indeed, it is more of a commentary on the unpredictable nature of politics. The “shy Tory” affect is well known; a voter says that they will vote Labour, Lib Dem or Green, so as to seem liberal, but the minute they go into the polling-booth they vote Conservative as the secret nature of voting means they feel safe to do so. A victory for Zac Goldsmith would be proof that this phenomenon continues to wreak havoc with YouGov’s statistical data. In essence, people may tell YouGov that they are voting for Sadiq as Goldsmith’s campaign is smearing their own political allegiances, but smear campaigns have worked before, and they will work again. So when Londoners go into the voting-booths, don’t be surprised if Zac Goldsmith’s campaign of fear is enough to make potential Sadiq voters doubt themselves and vote conservative.

More about the author

About the author

Will is a journalism student and a blogger/writer with a passion for politics and our society. He covers many major political events and frequently writes about the political figures who inspire or infuriate us. He is currently doing his dissertation on opinion discourse in the media, which inspired him to share some of his own opinions with Disclaimer and other publications.

Follow Will on Twitter.

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