Sadiq Khan's concern for London's Jews shames his smearing Tory foes
Anoteable feature of the London mayor campaign has been the praise heaped on Labour’s Sadiq Khan by Jewish media commentators. Following a hustings held by Jewish News last week, the paper’s online editor Jack Mendel applauded himfor having “worked overtime” to win the backing of the capital’s Jewish community despite a “mounting list of problems” with the Labour Party. “In my professional dealings with Sadiq Khan he seems to get the problem,” Mendel enthused. By contrast: “Tory hopeful Zac Goldsmith seems to simply be lying low.”
It’s not the first such tribute Khan has been paid. In January, the Jewish Chronicle’s political correspondent Marcus Dysch expressed similar disappointment with Goldsmith. Describing a “broken, bitter relationship between the community and Labour” which he felt had “plummeted further” since Jeremy Corbyn became its leader, he thought the Tory candidate “could be expected to seize on this and, coupled with his pro-Israel stance and Jewish background, secure the backing of Jewish voters.” And yet: “It is Mr Khan who has made
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Cynics might sneer at him breaking his Ramadan fast in synagogues or at what seems an overly-enthusiastic approach to interfaith work. But he is willingly doing all those things and has been for a long time. It is not just campaign fodder. It is borne out of an apparently genuine desire and his past position as a communities minister.
By contrast, Goldsmith was judged by Dysch to have failed to provide “any developed thought on what exactly he would do for London’s Jews.”
These assessments strike me as very telling. They underline big differences between Khan and Goldsmith in their attitudes to an important part of the job they seek and their understanding of the city they wish to lead.
One difference is simply the degrees of enthusiasm each man seems to have for securing the position they are seeking. In the wake of two moreopinionpollsgiving Khan healthy leads – and, remember, the pollsters called London about right for last year’s general election, despite getting the country as a whole wrong – the Telegraph’s James Kirkup, anticipating a Khan win, has called Goldsmith’s campaign “underwhelming” and “openly negative” while the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman describes “those around” Goldsmith as “in despair.” She thinks the Tory candidate “doesn’t give the impression he’s all that bothered about winning.” No one, though, is doubting Khan’s desire to get the job. He has done his homework and it shows.
The other difference is about something more significant for London than any politician’s will to win command of City Hall. The capital is rightly famed for its variety of cultures and their tranquil co-existence. This is a precious asset that should be nurtured and protected. One of the concerns of JewishLondonersisarise in antisemitic attacks recorded by the Met. Even before those figures were released, Khan had declared his determination to support London’s Jews and foster understanding between different ethnic and religious groups.
Make no mistake: the savvy Khan will have been well aware of his political need to be seen to be embracing Jewish London. But in his eagerness to do so, he has shown a grasp of the cultural dynamics of everyday London that Goldsmith cannot begin to match. It isn’t right to hold the wealthy Tory’s privileged background against him, but where the capital’s community relations are concerned Khan’s life experience makes his opponent’s very sheltered one look a potential liability for the city.
Goldsmith has spoken of receiving antisemitic abuse on Twitter - the usual ugly slurs - and I don’t doubt he has. Yet he’s hardly gone out of his way to say how he would try to deal with that poison or others of a similar kind. Khan, though, has been consistently eloquent on his childhood experience of racism on London’s streets, and his years as a lawyer have given him further close-up insights into the damage to the social fabric that hate crime, harassment and discrimination of every type can do. As the observations of Jack Mendel and Marcus Dysch testify, the Labour man brings a passion and an intellectual insight to such matters that Goldsmith appears to lack.
Indeed, the Tory’s campaign tactics have demonstrated what can most indulgently be described as a casual readiness to risk stirring community tensions in London in the search for votes. Having purchased the services of election strategist
Another part of Goldsmith’s scaremongering approach is to get government ministers to smear Khan by publicly insinuating the fiction that he has sympathies with Islamist fanatics. Defence secretary Michael Fallon was the first poodle to yap such lines which, naturally, found their way on to the front page of the Goldsmith-backing London Evening Standard. The latest example came at the weekend when outgoing mayor Boris Johnson and, of all people, Home Secretary Theresa May, used the Conservatives’ spring forum in London to parrot those sly claims.
The truth is that Khan has no “extremist links,” no extremist sympathies and no extremists views and has been battling extremism for years. Johnson and May surely know this, but are implying that the opposite is the case. There are words for people who do things like that. I don’t need to use them here. You can probably already hear them.