Just 20 years ago, who would have imagined that we would have so many Muslims active in British political life. There is no one more notable than the former Shadow Justice Secretary, Sadiq Khan, who has just been elected Mayor of London with the biggest personal mandate in British political history despite a smear campaign from Zac Goldsmith’s team and the Conservative party.
It should be remembered that it was not until the general election of 1997 that Mohammad Sarwar became Britain’s first Muslim MP; and not until 2010 that Shabana Mahmood and Yasmin Qureshi became the country’s first female Muslim MPs. The total number of MPs grew to a record of 13 last year but this still leaves the community grossly under-represented.
Sadiq Khan was the first Muslim to attend cabinet as the Minister of State for Transport from 2009.
Since being first elected as an MP back in 2005, the Mayor has consistently built up his popularity and success. As a human rights lawyer, his duty has always been to stand up for those less fortunate – but he has extended his appeal by championing a range of issues.
Given his background, there is much to praise about the dignity with which the former Shadow Justice Secretary dealt with the barrage of abuse and Islamophobic smears that emanated from his Tory rival.
These tactics adopted by his opponent’s campaign were truly shameful and pernicious. What is even more disturbing, however, is how this approach of smear by association, was aided and abetted by senior Government officials including our Prime Minister, David Cameron, himself.
It exposed the fact that the Conservative Party is infected with a deep malaise of xenophobia directed against Muslims that goes all the way to the Prime Minister.
The frequent criticisms against Britain being a diverse society only serve to highlight that Government policy effectively is seeking assimilation. Even former Directory of Strategy for David Cameron, Steve Hilton, said that Goldsmith’s campaign has brought back the “nasty party label.”
The campaign may not have been quite as blatant as Enoch Powell’s infamous Rivers of Blood speech in the 1960s at the time when the racist card was used much more prominently.
But its seriousness was unambiguous, in that it was such a personal and bigoted attack against such a senior politician and at a time when Muslims are so disparagingly seen through the prism of terrorism.
The scale of the victory demonstrated how the orchestrated Islamophobic abuse was not popular with the vast population of London, one of most diverse and cosmopolitan city in the world where ethnic minorities represent up to 44 per cent of the vote. The campaign tactics were not only a slur on the character of the incumbent Mayor but an insult on the integrity of residents living in the capital.
There can be no doubt that the Tories must be urgently launch an inquiry into the extent of Islamophobia within the party in the same way as Labour Party has set up an inquiry into anti-Semitism, given as the Conservative peer Baroness Warsi pointed out: “there is a simmering underbelly of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party”.
Credit must go to Khan for standing above the fray and winning a magnificent victory. The Muslim News makes no excuses in praising the incumbent Mayor on his achievement but as always will monitor his progress as it would for all serving in office without any favours.