EXCLUSIVE: Islamophobia an issue in London mayor elections

25th Sep 2015
EXCLUSIVE:  Islamophobia an issue in London mayor elections

Ahmed J Versi

As the Conservatives battle with technical issues to choose a candidate for next year’s election for London mayor, new police figures show a huge 70 per cent increase in Islamophobia in the capital that will be a major issue for the eventual incumbent.

Richmond Park MP Zac Goldsmith, who is seeking to replace Boris Johnson, said the mayor is responsible to make sure that there is a “zero tolerance approach toward hate crimes” in London. “That’s a tangible thing the mayor can actually do,” he told The Muslim News.

Office figures released this month show that the recorded number of Islamophobic crimes in the capital rose to 816 in the year till July compared with 478 for the previous 12-month period. Labour London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi said the increase was “a shameful blight on London’s reputation as a welcoming, inclusive and tolerant city.”

Conservative MEP Syed Kamall, challenging Goldsmith for his party’s candidacy, said that there should be a multi-agency approach to the issue. “Let the mayor come together with the local authority, the metropolitan police, and the other authorities.”

“It will not be the same solution everywhere, some areas it might simply be a misunderstanding between communities, and actually they’re living side by side but they’re not actually integrating,” Kamall told The Muslim News.

Goldsmith suggested that mayor’s office and elsewhere should reflect the diversity of London, where Muslims are the biggest faith group after Christians. “That’s something which I think is important that institutions look like the people they serve.”

The bigotry against Muslims is seen going much further and comes at a time when the community in Britain is increasing seen through the prism of terrorism by politicians and the mainstream media, while the Government invents new laws every year to target Muslims.

Kamall, who is seen as second favourite behind Goldsmith to win the Conservative nomination to stand for mayor, thought the use of language was an important issue and suggested Muslims should be saying not just what terms were offensive but also what is more acceptable.

Goldsmith also criticised the way Muslims who were unrepresented of the community were paraded on television screens. “I think that harms, I think that incites negative attitudes towards the Muslims and I think the Muslims themselves become uncomfortable and I know that Muslims in my own community are uncomfortable with always represented by people who are completely unrepresentative.”

Goldsmith, son of the late billionaire financier James Goldsmith, wants to become mayor of London as it is “the world’s greatest city with all the benefits that brings” and that he wants to “continue to build on the progress” made by Mayor Boris Johnson and “making sure London works for all Londoners.”

Kamall, the son of an immigrant family from Guyana, whose father was a bus driver, said, “I love London and I have been representing London for the last 10 years at the European Parliament standing up for business and especially in the financial sector in London against EU legislations. So when Boris announced he wasn’t going to run again, many people came to me and said you’ve got to go for it, you know you’ve got a great story, your story is the London story and you know you can inspire every part of London.”

There is shortage of houses and affordable houses in London. Kamall said Boris has built 200,000 homes in the last ten years, and “we think that we could double that to forty thousand a year but actually what you need to do as Mayor is bang some heads together because there are lots of local authorities that don’t want to build more homes. And there are lots of local authorities that put up restrictions that make it uneconomic for us to build. So what we’ve got to be quite clear about is that actually how do we make sure that more homes are built, that’s very important.”

Goldsmith also argued that Boris has built “a record number of affordable homes but of course we face a housing crisis and we need to do a great deal more and the question is how do you do that?”. He added that “We need land, we need planning permission and we need finances” to achieve it. Goldsmith said that he will have to work with the local authorities for planning permission and get finances from private investors.

Transport in London has been the most challenging issue for the Mayor of London. Kamall said Boris has been modernising the underground systems and the over ground trains “has become a huge success story” and that “we’ve got cross rail on its way” we’ve got newer buses”. However, he said because “more people than ever are travelling than before, our population has now reached its peak and so we need to keep doing more to modernise the transport system.”

Goldsmith said there is a lot of pressure on mayor candidates “to make huge promises about cutting fares but the truth is we don’t know what the Government grant is going to be for TFL, we don’t know how much fiscal devolution there’s going to be for the London Mayor, and we haven’t seen TFL’s books in anything like the detail we need in order to be able to make a pledge”. He said there will be a 60% increase in the use of rails in the next decade or two. “That’s a massive increase and we know that the population is going to grow and so you have to keep the network growing otherwise London’s transport system will just become clogged up.” The priority is investing in expanding the network.

Other candidates standing for the Conservative nomination are London Assembly Member Andrew Boff and London’s deputy mayor for crime and policing Stephen Greenhalgh. The winner being voted for by members online is expected to be announced at the end of September.

• As we go to print Liberal Democrats announced their candidate for London Mayor, Caroline Pidgeon. Pidgeon, who is a member of the London Assembly, said: “London is a great city, but the huge potential it offers is not available to everyone. We need to tackle the brain drain to London’s economy caused by too many women not returning to work in part due to the high cost of childcare. We also need to end the scandal of too many young people struggling to rent, let alone buy a property. Unless we tackle these barriers London will continue to be a city that serves the few, not the many.”

She will also focus on supply of housing to meet demand and the “scandal of high rents”, fexibility and affordability of childcare, air pollution and transport fares that meet modern day lifestyles.

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