London’s mayoral race descends into typecasting

London’s mayoral race descends into typecasting

The London 2016 mayoral election has descended into personal attacks and identity politics, worrying for a position to lead a global city.

The 2016 election for London’s new mayor is an important one, given that London is one of the largest and richest capital cities in the world. London is one of the most important financial hubs in the world (alongside New York, Hong Kong and Singapore), and consequently a common location for major offices of corporations or banks. Therefore the mayor of London is a very powerful position.

Both candidates open to typecasting

It is disappointing to see the race for this important role descending into personal attacks and identity politics between the candidates. What should be an election about important issues such as housing, the economy, and uniting communities has become an election about extremism, racism and party politics-particularly when it comes to the main front-runners Zac Goldsmith (left) for the Conservatives and Sadiq Khan for Labour.

Sadiq Khan is Labour’s candidate for the election, and he is also a British-Pakistani Muslim. Predictably, Khan has been a victim of Islamophobia in this election campaign. For example Khan has been accused (by Zac Goldsmith and the Conservatives) of giving ‘oxygen’ to extremists by sharing platforms with them and having links to controversial figures such as Suliman Gani and Babar Ahmed.

While the stories do raise questions about Khan, it is doubtful they would have been raised or even investigated with such scrutiny if he was not Muslim. When taking the stories into account it seems that Khan was simply in the same room as figures with questionable views rather than sharing the views himself; although it remains unclear as to what actually happened in these instances.

Zac Goldsmith is the Conservative’s candidate for the election, and he is also a member of the elite Goldsmith banking family.  As a Conservative MP descended from a rich Jewish family, living in privilege, and schooled at Eton, Goldsmith has followed a somewhat stereotypical path. Being married to a member of the equally rich Rothschild family does not help.

As a result Goldsmith is as vulnerable to being typecast as Khan. This has certainly been the case on some occasions. For example Goldsmith has been criticised for his ‘non-dom’ status which he inherited from his father Sir James Goldsmith which Goldsmith has used pay less tax. His £10 million in earnings over the past 5 years has also raised eyebrows.

Ultimately questions have been raised as to whether Goldsmith can really lead London and represent its people when many are continuing to struggle with austerity cuts and a sluggish economy. As with Khan, it is doubtful these questions would have been raised if he was not the Conservative candidate, went to Eton and was a Goldsmith.

Other parties also raise concerns

Other candidates have also been associated with identity politics and potentially racism. Sophie Walker is the candidate for the Women’s Equality Party running purely on the policies of improving the lives of London’s women, an admirable ticket but one which seemingly ignores half of the city’s population. The British National Party and Britain First are running candidates claiming to put British people first and are predictably being labelled as racist by some.

The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) are running on a strong anti-immigration ticket. Finally there is George Galloway running as mayor for his Respect party, a figure who has had a history of dirty politics with comments such as ‘Jewish free zone’ and saying Julian Assange was guilty of nothing more than ‘bad sexual etiquette’. Ultimately this mayoral election has become more about where people come from and their genetic makeup than it is about policies; which is just divisive, damaging and frankly sad.

This election is important because of London’s status as a global financial centre and its importance to the world economy. Therefore for its leader to be decided more by what religion they follow, what family they come from, where they were born and whether they are a man or a woman is an election which is missing the point and is potentially dangerous.

There is a real danger of people voting with their heart rather than their head and while that could result in a leader who brings people together it could also result in the winning candidate being the one who ran the most effective attacks on their opponents and not having the best policies.

Simply put, the London election could put the capital’s economy and subsequently the world’s economy at risk.

In conclusion the 2016 London mayoral election remains one to watch. Before the crucial EU referendum, from both a British and global perspective, the election could be very important to how the world economy fares. For everyone’s sake we have to hope that mayoral politicking has hit rock bottom as far as dirty tricks are concerned and will soon focus on the  important issues of the day, rather than where the candidate comes from.

Categories: Europe, Politics

About Author

Rayhan Chouglay

Rayhan Chouglay is a GRI Analyst. He holds a BA in History from the London School of Economics with a particular focus on Hindu-Muslim relations in South Asia. His main political risk interests concern relations between India and Pakistan.