Monday 14 September 2015

In Praise of Sadiq Khan

Overshadowed by the hulaballoo surrounding Jeremy Corbyn this weekend, Sadiq Khan was chosen to contest the London mayoral election for Labour in 2016. Not being a Londoner, I hadn't paid much attention to that contest; but Khan looks like the sort of Labour politician I could get behind.

Khan's father emigrated to the UK from Pakistan and became a London bus driver. Khan grew up in the constituency he now represents in Parliament, and before going into politics was a lawyer specialising in employment law and human rights. He was Britain's first Muslim cabinet minister, serving as Transport Secretary under Gordon Brown, and later as Shadow Justice Secretary under Ed Miliband.

In his acceptance speech on Saturday, Khan came across as likable and personable, in contrast to Ed Miliband's robotic stiffness or Jeremy Corbyn's angry rambling.

Khan is on the left of the Labour party, but also has a clear belief in pragmatism. This contrasts with Corbyn, whose disdain for compromise and nuance I find so alarming.

Khan seems like a good choice to run for mayor of London, and I hope he wins. Most importantly, he seems capable and principled, but there is something more to his candidacy. As Khan himself has said:

The idea that the mayor of London could be son of an immigrant, son of a bus driver, ethnic minority – and by the way, of Islamic faith – would speak volumes [...] What sort of message would it send if Londoners had the confidence, tolerance and respect to vote for someone of a different faith [from most of them]? I’m a Londoner first and foremost, but it would show the haters in Iraq and the haters in Syria what sort of country we are: a beacon.

Another thing, which Khan was too much of a politician to mention: There are a lot of haters within Britain too. As I've written before, there is an ugly movement of bigotry and xenophobia in this country. I would like to see Khan demonstrate there is a better side to the UK, a confident, welcoming and open-minded side.

Plainly speaking: A dark-skinned Muslim, human rights lawyer, and child of immigrants being elected London mayor would make a certain type of reactionary's head explode. It would be worth seeing almost for that alone.

The human rights angle is important. Human rights are British values; after the Second World War, the UK played a major part in establishing the legal principles involved. The European Convention of Human Rights, a bĂȘte noire for much of the modern-day Conservative party, was signed by Prime Minister Winston Churchill. Among other things, the London mayor is in charge of policing in the capital, and it will be no bad thing for him to have a deep appreciation of human rights.

If Khan does become mayor of London, and succeeds in that role, he may rise higher still. If he wins two terms as mayor, he will step down in 2024, in good time to run for Parliament in 2025. If Corbyn has become the beloved leader of the nation, he will then be 77 years old, and perhaps ready to retire.

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