In his busy office in Parliament Sadiq Khan’s team are busy making Khan’s dream a reality. The ever-ambitious Khan is running to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor. As it is one of the most powerful positions in Europe, with a massive budget of £17 billion, it has captured the interest of political heavyweights from Tessa Jowell to Zac Goldsmith. But Khan is unfazed, the latest betting odds make him the favourite to win, just. If he wins he will be the first Muslim to hold such a high position in the Western world with huge mandate (of 8.5 million Londoners).
But it’s very unpredictable, as Labour have opened up the voting to anyone willing to pay £3. (The Conservatives has done likewise). The candidates are frantically running around trying to sign up supporters.
After several rearrangements the MP for Tooting agrees to talk to The Muslim News on the anniversary of the 7/7 London underground bombings. Khan recalls the dread and fear he felt when news first filtered to him about an attack on the underground.
Khan was safe in his office, but his lawyer wife was on her way to Old Bailey, a mere five minutes walk, two train stops, away from where the bombings actually took place. “I had no idea what was going to happen next, there were helicopters overhead, sirens passing, Parliament was on lockdown”, Khan recalls.
Khan eventually got through to his wife, she was safe.
Soon after Khan was called in by Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister, along with the three other Muslim MPs. “There was a sense [by Blair] that this is a Muslim issue and Muslims need to solve it. They soon realised that the vast majority of Muslims had nothing whatsoever to do with the terrorists.”
Khan rebelled against Blair’s proposed solution to the problem, 90 days detention without trial. “It was counter-productive, it was not going to help”.
Khan is proud of London’s response to 7/7. “London was unfazed, it didn’t give in to the terrorists. It showed a great spirit of unity and got on with it.” But Khan recognises the rise of Islamophobia after 7/7, he recalls that before 7/7 Islamophobia was not even recorded. As Mayor he plans to tackle this by making the police more representative of Londoners and use the Mayor’s office to influence counter-terrorism policy.
But above all Khan is interested in the gesture London will send to the world, especially to the terrorist, when, Khan’s eyes light up, “London becomes the first non-Muslim city to elect a Muslim as Mayor.”
If he does make it to Mayor Khan has a mammoth task on his hand. From housing, to transport, to inequality, London is full of challenges. Those who are suffering most are more likely to be from an ethnic background, especially from a Pakistani and Bangladeshi background. When these issues are put to Khan, he throws plenty of solutions to each idea.
On housing Khan wants to start a Mayor’s lettings agency which will let out and manage private property on unprecedented three year contracts. In the process “it will be cheaper for tenants and more secure for Landlords.”
Khan also wants to use the vast amount of land the Mayor owns to build affordable housing, “which will be offered to Londoners first, then to international buyers.” He will also guarantee that a social house will be built for every one that is sold.
Khan also wants to redefine what affordable housing means (linked to the average wage of Londoners) and legislate that developers build 50% of houses as affordable. This will be a radical shake-up from the current definition from Boris Johnson, London’s current Conservative Mayor.
On jobs Khan wants to work with businesses to help them find Londoners for the positions they need. “Instead of looking for talent outside of London or the UK, I’ll ask business owners what skills they need. I will then invest in Londoners and give them the training they needed for the vacancies.”
Khan wants to use this training scheme to diversify London’s economy to include a strong technology, creative and other sectors. “The diversification of London will only work if we use London’s diverse communities,” Khan claims. Khan’s team claims that Khan gets his ideas from reading into what other mayors of world cities have done. Clearly he has been reading.
Khan is proud of the contribution of immigrants and their children to London. With over 40% of London belonging to an ethnic community, London is one of the most diverse cities in the world. Khan laments the use of negative language on immigrants and the attempt by the current Government to limit the number of skilled workers coming into the country. Khan is especially critical of the most likely Conservative candidate for Mayor, Zac Goldsmith, who thinks that there has been “too many immigrants” who came “too fast”.
So why does Khan want to become Mayor of the “greatest city in the world”? Khan replies as if he is in a job interview. Digging into his background gives a better answer. Khan, and his eight siblings, grew up in a council house in south London. His father was a bus driver while his mum was a part-time seamstress. He had to take up boxing to protect himself in the rough environment. Statistically, someone from a poor ethnic background going to a state school in inner London would struggle to succeed. Khan clearly did not get the memo.
He breezed through his school and his law degree.He specialised in human rights and represented victims of police abuse. He started his career as a trainee of the prominent human rights lawyer Louise Christian. He rose through the ranks to eventually become a partner in the firm. The young Khan was progressing fast and his rise seemed unstoppable. Until Khan stopped himself.
Khan was elected as the Labour candidate for Tooting, the constituency where he grew up in and now lives with his wife and two daughters. Khan immediately stopped practising law and focused on becoming a full time politician. Khan has not looked back since.
Khan quickly went on to become the first Muslim to sit in the cabinet. He became Minister for Communities in 2008, three years after becoming an MP. He was then promoted to Minister for Transport.
In politics, like in law, Khan has ruthlessly attempted to represent his clients. His most recent client was Ed Miliband, a man who depended on Khan’s avid backing to become leader of the Labour Party in 2010. Khan was rewarded with the position of Shadow Justice Secretary, the first Muslim to be in such a position. But his eyes were always on the London Mayoralty.
Looking back, Khan recognises that he depended on much of what London had to offer. A good school and university, good opportunities for him to develop his career, an enterprising economy from him to grow his business and affordable housing from him live.
Khan fears that after eight years of Boris Johnson as Mayor and 10 years of a Conservative Government the opportunities are no longer there for Londoners. Khan wants to become Mayor of London because “I’ve got the ideas, experience” to reverse these trends. “I know what makes London tick” Khan adds.
The Muslim News will be interviewing other prospective Mayoral candidates too.
At a cost of £3 those who want to vote for a Labour Mayor candidate, Leader and Deputy Leader can register by texting LABOUR to 78555.