Muslim leads London mayoral race after racially charged campaign

Justin Tallis, Leon Neal / AFP | Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith (left) and his Labour opponent Sadiq Khan (right).

Voters in London will choose Thursday between the son of a Pakistani-born bus driver and the son of a billionaire to become their next mayor, in an election overshadowed by an ugly spat over racial profiling and alleged links to extremists.


Sadiq Khan, 45, grew up in a cramped council flat with seven siblings, and went on to become a leading human rights lawyer before joining the Labour Party and being elected MP for the Tooting area of south London where he grew up.

Zac Goldsmith’s background couldn’t be more different. The Conservative MP for the well-to-do Richmond Park constituency was raised in a mansion and was educated privately, which included time at elite public school Eton (where he was expelled after cannabis was found in his room).

Outspoken on environmental causes, Goldsmith made a name for himself as the editor of The Ecologist magazine, a post he held from 1998 to 2006 when he stepped down to advise David Cameron, then in opposition, on environmental policy.

Goldsmith, 41, who has Jewish ancestors who fled fascism in Europe, has said his family was "as diverse as this great city".

He also has Muslim nephews through his sister Jemima, the ex-wife of Pakistani cricketer-politician Imran Khan.


Accusations leave a bitter taste

The run-up to Thursday’s vote has been marred by allegations that Khan is “radical” and “dangerous”, according to Goldsmith, for having shared a platform (attending the same speaking events) in the past with imam Sulaiman Ghani, whom David Cameron has labelled a Muslim extremist.

Khan, said Goldsmith, had given "platforms, oxygen and even cover – over and over again – to those who seek to do our police and capital harm".

Khan’s team countered, tweeting photos of Goldsmith and other senior Conservatives standing next to Ghani, while pointing out that Khan had helped remove Ghani as the imam of a London mosque because of his radical views.

Khan insists he will be the “British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists”.

Goldsmith has also been accused of attempting to stoke racial tensions by sending a leaflet to Londoners with Hindu or Sikh family names, warning them that Khan, of Pakistani descent, would tax their jewellery, and criticised him for not welcoming Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on an official visit to London.

"There's something I want to say to Zac Goldsmith,” Khan responded. “You don't bring communities together by running a campaign based on division and fear."

Bookies’ favourite

Amid an acrimonious feud within Labour that has seen former London mayor Ken Livingstone removed from the party over accusations of anti-Semitism (he said Hitler supported sending Jews to Palestine in the early 1930s), the spat has left a bitter taste in multicultural London.

The Conservatives’ tactics look like they may have backfired. Khan is the bookies' clear favourite to win (odds of 1/9 indicate a 90 percent chance of winning) and he is also ahead in the polls, with a survey published in London’s Evening Standard newspaper on Wednesday giving him 57 per cent support.

Eclipsed by the headline-grabbing accusations, both candidates have addressed the top concern of most Londoners, namely the sky-high property prices that make buying a home in London nearly impossible.

The average house price in London is a staggering 530,000 pounds (€700,000), which is 10 times the average annual household income.

And despite their differences, both candidates have promised to tackle the situation by building an extra 50,000 new homes every year in a bid to ease pressure on the housing market.

They are also united in fighting terrorism, investing in the city’s chronically overburdened public transport system and in reducing air pollution.

Socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo, who insists she has a good relationship with outgoing Mayor Boris Johnson and has described London "as a suburb of Paris" and Paris "as a suburb of London", last week tweeted: "I support and stand side by side with Sadiq Khan, a great leader for London."

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