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London polls: Race to the finish

Updated 09 May, 2016 04:01pm
A veiled woman at Whitechapel market in east London | AFP
A veiled woman at Whitechapel market in east London | AFP

At lunchtime on a Thursday while eating a pub carvery in South London, I hear a rant.

The ranter doesn’t need to say very much to tip me off as to where he is going — he is about to slag off Muslims. Or immigrants. It turns out this time, it was both.

Muslims. Bombers. Terrorists. Invaders. Rape. Sharia. Islamaphobia bingo.

It’s not a conversation you hear much in London. The city isn’t really that kind of town it’s the town that looks down on that sort of talk. Very occasionally, if you hear one, the person involved is usually drunk, or just looks like there is something not quite right about him. Like they have been left behind by society, and this is their last chance to fight back against all the injustices he thinks have kept him down.

The conversation next to me is a bit different; it might be in a pub, but the guy at the table just looks like a normal sober middle-aged white English-born man. He doesn’t look weird, or angry, and he sits at a table with his wife and another couple. They are all well dressed, well spoken, and had they been talking about football, home renovation or anything similar, I wouldn’t have even taken any notice. Instead it’s about hate. It’s about fear. It’s about Muslims.

I sat there and finished my meal, as did my sons and my mother-in-law — my Muslim mother-in-law.

Inter-religious march for peace | AFP
Inter-religious march for peace | AFP

London is a great city, but not one that instantly opens up for you. There are a few nice landmarks and tourist hot spots, but the city as a whole is not set up for newcomers. It is like the best of the big cities - you have to earn it.

It is a nation all on its own; it may be the United Kingdom’s capital, but it really is a different country to the country it represents. And like the best cities, it sucks people in. Through opportunity, through size and through gravitas. London means something, the way Paris, Tokyo or New York means something, and people flock to it — people from England, from the rest of the UK, from Europe, from everywhere.

There is no doubting that it’s an international city. This is in large part due to its relevance and greatness. As an Australian, an outsider, I feel like it’s my home, I don’t feel English or British in the slightest, but I do feel like I’m a Londoner.

Right now the London mayoral election is under way. You may have heard about it: Imran Khan has been speaking about it, Shane Warne tweeted about it. It’s been in the news — more than it probably should be. London’s mayor is an important position, but primarily symbolic. The actual power it bestows is limited. Like the governor of California, you are the figurehead for a gigantic economy and a sizable part of England’s population, which some might call the brain and wallet of the country.

It isn’t just London’s importance that has made this a huge event. It is who is contesting the election. For the Conservative Party it is Zac Goldsmith, a British man of Jewish origin, and for the Labour Party it is Sadiq Khan, a British man who is Muslim.

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“The truth is, that beyond my name, which is a fairly strong Jewish name, ‘Zacharias Goldsmith’ changed from ‘Goldschmidts’ – I cannot claim to be all that Jewish. But if you type in my name on Twitter, you will find that I am at the very heart of the Jewish conspiracy.”

That was Zac Goldsmith talking to the Conservative Friends of Israel in London last year. Just because of his name he is seen as part of a global conspiracy to defraud the goyim. It isn’t fair, it not ok, it’s anti-Semitic, and beyond that, really stupid.

This election his opponent hasn’t brought up his Jewishness. During the election Sadiq Khan didn’t seem worried about the ‘International Bankers’, ‘Giant Lizards” or whatever code word is used to scare people about Jews these days. In the Republican primary it was Ted Cruz who kept going on about “New York values”, which many assumed was code for Jewish. But Sadiq Khan seemed oblivious to using these terms.

Instead the anti-Semitic part of the election run-up came from London’s former mayor, Labour’s Ken Livingstone. The former mayor got himself suspended from his own party when he tried to defend another Muslim politician in the UK, and ended up in a tangled web of words involving Hitler (for no real good reason), which lead to accusations of anti-Semitism.

He was called an anti-Semite, and an idiot.

Outside the Islamic Cultural Centre (Left to Right) Imran Khan, Hajee Mohammed Rafiq, Rashid Laher and Zac Goldsmith | Ben Mole
Outside the Islamic Cultural Centre (Left to Right) Imran Khan, Hajee Mohammed Rafiq, Rashid Laher and Zac Goldsmith | Ben Mole

The Conservatives were quick to gloat, despite Khan suggesting that Livingstone should be suspended, and despite the fact that earlier in the same week their current mayor, Boris Johnson, had referred to Barack Obama as part Kenyan. And not just part Kenyan, but the Kenyan part that doesn’t like English people, according to the rest of Johnson’s rant. In a city like London where everyone is part something, it led pretty quickly to him being called racist — and an idiot.

So the last mayor and the current mayor, in one week, made fools of themselves, of their parties, and of the office itself. In one of the world’s most heated melting pots, it angered people on the left and right with bigotry and hate — but mostly pure stupidity.

But Livingstone and Johnson are just comic relief in this political punch up. Zac Goldsmith entered this campaign as pro-environmental and a multimillionaire posh politician who was once Imran Khan’s brother-in-law. Quickly he went from a friendly conservative to a hated one — as quick as his campaign could send out leaflets.

The leaflets, which included special words from UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron, were very clearly - and very specifically — targeting groups who were historically considered to be against Khan. Individuals with Indian-sounding non-Muslim names were sent leaflets about how Khan wasn’t a friend of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. People with Tamil-sounding names were sent letters about how Khan didn’t stand up for the Tamil people in Parliament. Despite the fact that it wasn’t his job, or responsibility.

It was Goldsmith who said that Khan was playing the race card, after he was upset with some of the phrasing Goldsmith was using around him. If Khan is playing the race card, he’s been trumped. Almost Donald Trumped.

The Muslim-sounding names often weren’t sent leaflets about keeping the streets safe, because Muslims are apparently well known for liking violent streets.

What really annoyed many people wasn’t just the racial and religious profiling, it was the leaflets kept saying ‘Your Community’ as if Cameron and Goldsmith were saying they weren’t part of London’s community, but a separate one, an outside one — one that could be targeted through a surname algorithm and racial stereotypes.

London is a culturally progressive place and the conservatives were sending out leaflets about how Asians like to hoard gold.

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Goldsmith’s leaflets have also suggested that Khan is “radical” and “dangerous”. Similar messages have been uttered by other prominent conservatives, giving the impression that its part of an organised attack. Including Boris Johnson, who suggested that Khan “shared platforms - to put it at its mildest - with some pretty dodgy people with some pretty repellent views”. That is pretty inevitable when you are a human rights attorney, as Khan was. Of course, Zac Goldsmith has endorsed Imran Khan before, another controversial Muslim who some believe has repellent views about the Taliban. And Imran Khan has now also endorsed him.

In Goldsmith’s Daily Mail column he was more direct in saying, “Yet if Labour wins on Thursday, we will have handed control of the Met, and with it control over national counter-terrorism policy, to a party whose candidate and current leadership have, whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimised those with extremist views.”

Newspaper headlines the day after the terrorist attacks on the London Underground and bus network in July 2005 | AFP
Newspaper headlines the day after the terrorist attacks on the London Underground and bus network in July 2005 | AFP

Above the column’s online post is a picture of the London 2005 terror attack. The message has been pretty clear, whether it be Khan, or Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (a socialist peacenik who the conservatives have been bombing with hate since he took over the leadership), if you let them control your city, it will be attacked by terrorists.

Notably, it was Goldsmith who said that Khan was playing the race card, after he was upset with some of the phrasing Goldsmith was using around him. If Khan is playing the race card, he’s been trumped. Almost Donald Trumped.

Khan, for his part, has tried to play a positive campaign. But old comments he made to Iranian TV about the need to talk to Muslims who aren't just 'Uncle Toms' was released. It is a derogatory term used by black people in America to talk about other black people who are exceedingly servile to white people. Sadiq Khan apologised, but it just added to the mood of this election.

If the polls are right, he is massively ahead and should win easily. He is so far ahead that people believe there could even be a Bradley effect, where his supporters may not turn up to vote for him.

It doesn’t matter if he wins or not. It doesn’t even matter if he is a better mayor than Zac Goldsmith or not, or even if he becomes London’s first Muslim mayor — the damage has already been done.

While I finished my meal I thought of a leaflet that was slipped through my front door once, from a group called Liberty GB. A far right political party, who said they would fight UK’s islamification; stop immigration and also stop hospitals from charging for car parking. At the time I was angry, but I also thought it was ironic that they chose my family’s house — a family that simply wouldn’t exist without immigration and Islam.

At the end of my meal and after my kids had been wiped down, we got up from our table. The children ran off first and they caught the eye of the man who had been ranting. He made funny faces at them and they played with him.

I stayed back at the table and my mother-in-law ran over to get to them. The man asked if they were her grandkids. They chatted about how cute and loud they were. She was a radical and dangerous Muslim earlier, now she was just another London grandmother. It was just another London moment of multiculturism. It wasn’t part of a plot, or campaign — it just happened. Like most of London’s best moments.