- Former transport minister becomes London's first Muslim mayor
- Victory challenges rise in politicians' anti-Muslim rhetoric
Sadiq Khan of Britain’s main opposition Labour Party took over as London’s first Muslim mayor on Saturday, facing down critics who used his religion against him by vowing to “represent every single community” in the capital.
Khan’s election is a challenge to the rise of anti-Muslim rhetoric by right-wing politicians including French National Front leader Marine Le Pen and presumptive U.S. Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who promises to ban Muslims from entering the country.
London is a city “that not only tolerates but celebrates diversity,” campaigner Doreen Lawrence said as Khan was sworn in Saturday. Lawrence, mother of Stephen Lawrence, a British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in South East London in 1993, said the city had “chosen hope over fear.”
In brief remarks after taking the oath, Khan promised to be “a mayor for all Londoners.”
Khan beat Conservative Zac Goldsmith, who had questioned whether Khan’s links in the Muslim community made him a suitable person to keep the U.K. capital secure, with 1.3 million votes to 995,000. The new mayor was sworn in during a ceremony in London’s Southwark Cathedral Saturday.
“I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again, a visibly emotional Khan said after the result was announced in London’s City Hall early on Saturday morning. “Fear doesn’t make us safer, it only makes us weaker and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city.”
Governments across Europe have struggled to frame a policy to handle a record influx of refugees, many of them Muslims, fleeing the civil war in Syria and violence elsewhere in the Middle East. Some nations are building barriers, erecting fences or limiting border crossings to stem a refugee flow that topped 1 million just in Germany.
Some political leaders have pushed back against efforts to stop the migrants. Last month President Barack Obama said German Chancellor Angela Merkel was “on the right side of history” with her open-door stance on refugees, bolstering the leader whose popularity is weighed down at home because of the issue.
Khan was elected in the same week that Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokeswoman said he wouldn’t rescind his criticism of Trump over the Republican’s views on Muslims. The premier said in December that Trump’s assertion that all Muslims pose a security threat to America and his proposal to ban them from entering the country were “divisive, unhelpful and quite simply wrong.”
Cameron “has no intention of withdrawing his comments, which were made in response to comments Trump made about a ban on Muslims entering the U.S.,” spokeswoman Helen Bower told reporters in London on May 4. Whether Trump becomes president “is a choice for the American people,” she said.
Trump also was criticized last year by former London Mayor Boris Johnson for his comments about Islam, which included an assertion that there are parts of the U.K. capital where “police are afraid for their own lives.” The Scottish National Party called for Trump to be banned from Britain in line with laws against preaching hate.
Khan, 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.
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 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 were more in tune with 21st-century Britain, said the campaign had set back the Tories.
“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.
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!”