Sadiq Khan of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party won election as London’s first Muslim mayor, beating the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith after a bitterly fought and divisive campaign.
Khan, who faced a Tory onslaught that questioned whether his links in the Muslim community made him a suitable person to keep the U.K. capital secure, won 1.3 million votes, compared with 995,000 for Goldsmith after second-preference votes from the other 10 candidates were reallocated.
“This election was not without controversy and I’m so proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division,” a visibly emotional Khan said after the result was announced in London’s City Hall early on Saturday morning. “I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear doesn’t make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city.”
Khan, who became the first Muslim to attend U.K. cabinet meetings under Prime Minister Gordon Brown in 2009, becomes the most powerful member of that faith in elected office in Britain, in charge of an annual budget of 17 billion pounds ($25 billion) and responsible for policing, the transport network, planning and the environment in the U.K. capital.
Khan, 45, distanced himself from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn during the campaign, even though he nominated the hard-line socialist for the leadership after Ed Miliband’s resignation last year. He said he did so to encourage debate in the party and that it was “ludicrous” to claim he was a close ally. Khan was helped when a leaked memo from Corbyn’s office referred to him as “hostile.”
The Tory campaign said Khan, a former human-rights lawyer, had “questions to answer” over Muslims he had shared platforms with and who, they alleged, had expressed extremist views.
Khan asked Labour activists not to rise to the Tory bait and to concentrate on his manifesto of providing affordable housing, freezing fares on buses and London’s underground rail network, known as the Tube, and promising to promote and support businesses.
Goldsmith’s campaign, which was run by colleagues of Prime Minister David Cameron’s campaign chief, Lynton Crosby, was publicly criticized by senior Conservatives.
A former party chairwoman, Sayeeda Warsi, a Muslim who was promoted to the cabinet by Cameron in part to show the Conservatives had modernized and was more in tune with 21st-century Britain, said the campaign had set the Tories back.
“Our appalling dog-whistle campaign for London mayor 2016 lost us the election, our reputation and credibility on issues of race and religion,” she tweeted before the result was announced.
Andrew Boff, leader of the Conservative group on the Greater London Assembly, told BBC Television that relationships with the Muslim community “have been blown up by this campaign. A lot of us on the ground are going to have to spend a lot of time on trying to re-establish those links.”
“It’s hard to think of a city or a part of the U.K. where dog-whistle politics would work less well than London,” Tony Travers, who studies local elections at the London School of Economics, said in an interview. “It’s so multinational, multiethnic and multireligious that most people hear this sort of negative messaging and think ‘We too are a minority,’ and they’re off-put by it.”
The Tories held five of their six constituency seats in the assembly, losing Merton and Wandsworth, Khan’s home patch in south London, to Labour.
The son of Pakistani immigrants, Khan grew up in social housing in Tooting, the district he represents in the House of Commons. He worked as a human-rights lawyer before becoming a lawmaker and a minister in Brown’s government.
Khan, who sought support from London’s financial-services industry during the campaign, has pledged to join the fight to keep Britain in the European Union in the referendum on June 23. Goldsmith, 41, is in favor of leaving the bloc.
Khan is now Labour’s most powerful politician outside of Wales and will appoint staff over the next few days who are likely to include advisers who have fled Labour’s headquarters since Corbyn became party leader. He said during the campaign he would “be his own man” and will be free to establish an operation in City Hall that pursues pro-business centrist policies in contrast to Corbyn’s more hardline socialist agenda.
Being mayor is largely about delivering services competently, and Khan, who will be more hands-on than his predecessor Boris Johnson, will have to hit the ground running, LSE’s Travers said.
“You don’t run Tube trains in a right-wing or left-wing way,” Travers said. “Competence is the key, It’s only four years until the next election.”
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Khan quoted during his campaign, was one of the first to recognize his victory. “Sending congratulations to London’s new mayor and fellow affordable housing advocate,” he said on Twitter. “Look forward to working together!”
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