By John Martin
Londoners go to the polls on May 5 in a mayoral contest that brings religion, race, and security to the fore. According to polls the likely winner is Sadiq Khan, who would be the first Muslim to lead the city. His opponent, Zac Goldsmith, has Jewish roots.
Londoners have elected mayors since 2000. Only two politicians, Livingstone (Labour) and Boris Johnson (Conservative), have occupied the office.
The social gap between the candidates is enormous. Khan is the son of a London bus driver, grew up on a deprived council estate with six siblings, and attended state schools. He is a Labour Party member of Parliament since 2005.
Goldsmith inherited a fortune of £200-£300 million. He attended the elite Eton College and is married to an heiress of the famous Rothschild banking family.
Churches have been careful not to be seen taking sides in a campaign with multiple religious sensitivities. A week ahead of the vote Citizens UK, a major interfaith consortium, attracted an audience of 6,000 to election hustings with the major candidates on show. The Rt. Rev. Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, opened that event. Citizens UK has a strong base of support among churches, campaigning on low wages and housing.
Feelings have run high, with accusations that Khan has links to terrorists. Moreover, the Labour Party has been accused of deep anti-Semitism following remarks by former mayor Ken Livingstone.
Few differences are evident between the candidates’ policies. Both want to build more homes and improve London’s somewhat clunky public transportation. But the campaign became venomous as Goldsmith described his opponent as dangerous and someone who would cause London to “fall into the wrong hands.”
Khan, an observant Muslim, says he is well placed to tackle extremism and, like so many people in cosmopolitan London, has “multiple identities.”