First published by ProgressOnline
My first job after leaving student politics was to work for the All Party Parliamentary on combating Antisemitism. The inquiry commissioned by John Mann had a real impact and the then prime minister Tony Blair set up an inter-departmental committee to take forward its recommendations. Within months there was a new prime minister and Gordon Brown committed his government full-square behind the plan. He appointed first Parmjit Dhanda and then Sadiq Khan to be the minister responsible. Both had considerable strengths. The transition from one to another was a time of slight trepidation: Parmjit had been elected in 2001, was well known to those working around the APPG for his interfaith work; Sadiq on the other hand had only been elected in 2005, was – alongside Shahid Malik – was the first Muslim minister in Britain and was out of nowhere the minister for faith and combatting antisemitism.
He was a delight to work with. He was an activist minister, believing in the power of government and was in a rush to make an impact. He worked the stakeholders well, under promised and over delivered, and saw the cross departmental nature of the work as a real opportunity to understand how government worked and change could be made. He was a great advocate for the cause of anti-racism generally, he showed a real understanding of how antisemitism reared his ugly head. Not only was he good at unblocking the congestion that had built up round the Home Office on third party reporting, he was keen to push, prod and cajole the then known Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills – the short lived body responsible for universities – that had been notorious at avoiding any responsibility. Reports from Oxford univeristy and elsewhere – as Joan Ryan chronicles – show the failing by consecutive higher education ministers of both parties to grasp the nettle – none of them Sadiq. It was impressive to watch and a moment of pride when a Muslim, our soon to be mayor of London, on behalf of the British government welcomed 120 parliamentarians from nearly 40 legislatures to London for the first inter-parliamentary committee on combating antisemitism.
The fact the Tories – first in subtle tones and then this week in the most vulgar and excruciating terms – are trying to use Sadiq’s faith against him in the battle for City Hall is sickening. I hope, beyond hope, that it does not work. Learning all the wrong lessons from Trump’s hateful words, Michael Fallon showed Tory thinking, especially without Sayeda Warsi available to protest, that such actions are cost free and potentially advantageous. We must show them otherwise.
What is worse, I fear, is it exposes the wider electoral strategy of Conservative central office. In 2015, David Cameron won a plurality among Sikh and Hindu voters for the first time. This was a huge coup for them, however, there were next to no gains with British Muslims. CCO seem ecstatic about for the former and totally relaxed about the latter.
I believe the role of a government is to bring people together. To give collective endeavour to diverse groups and facilitate the building of communities. In a complete dereliction of that duty, it seems the Tories are exploiting community difference and tensions rather than healing divides. Using geo-political issues to garner votes in London. Ken Livingstone was guilty of these kind of tactics, but this divisive politics should stay in the past, where is belongs – it was not particularly welcome the first time round.
Sadiq’s candidature is a marked contrast to his current opponent and Labour predecessor: a mayor for all of London. Embracing the best ideas of his former rival Tessa Jowell (homes for Londoners) and would-be stateside opposite number Bill De Blasso (skills for Londoners) he has plenty to say and an exhausting pace on the campaign trail. Goldsmith by contrast is running lacklustre campaign and with little to say about why he would be good, and plenty to say on why Labour would be bad. This might suffice as the incumbent but he is not, only his party is. Boris Johnson won a Labour city by being more than his party, yet Goldsmith’s position on Europe exposes he is not even all of his party.
Labour members across London must unite around Sadiq, show up the cynicism of the Tory strategy, and prove it is neither welcome nor acceptable in London. But most of all – in the same way you do not have to Jewish to be appalled by antisemitism – we should not leave Sadiq alone to take on and expose the vile nature of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign. I for one will not allow that to happen.