Even before the formal announcement of Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London mayoral election was made, the recriminations among Tory high command were under way.
Andrew Boff, Conservative leader in the London assembly, stated on Newsnight that the Zac Goldsmith campaign had “done real damage” to relations between the Tory Party and London Muslims.
In a withering assault, he claimed that the Goldsmith campaign had attempted to “equate people of conservative religious views with sympathising with terrorism”.
Boff is one of the most senior and highly regarded Conservatives in London. His views carry weight and I know from personal conversations that they reflect the opinions of dozens of Tory activists and MPs, who have been appalled by the tone and style of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign to retain power in London.
Goldsmith focused relentlessly on negative campaigning and repeatedly targeted Sadiq Khan as a Muslim, stigmatising him on account of alleged connections with so-called radicals.
By comparison, Goldsmith’s campaign played down the issues that genuinely affect Londoners - such as housing and transport - in the attacks on the Labour candidate.
Crucially this focus on sectarian politics seems to have been led from the very top of the Conservative Party itself.
In a very disturbing intervention Defence Secretary Michael Fallon notoriously suggested Sadiq Khan could damage London’s security. Meanwhile, Prime Minister David Cameron relentlessly focused on Sadiq Khan’s alleged "extremist" connections at Prime Minister’s Questions.
In an attempt to damage the Labour campaign, Cameron went to the outrageous lengths of claiming that Suliman Gani, an imam in Sadiq Khan’s Tooting constituency, was an “IS supporter”. Downing Street still refuses to retract this extremely damaging and false statement.
London voters yesterday rejected this Tory brand of sectarian and divisive politics overwhelmingly. The scale of Sadiq Khan’s victory was a humiliation for Zac Goldsmith - and a rebuke for his Tory machine.
I hope it will lead to soul searching in Tory high command, especially because last night’s results in London were far worse for the Tories than in other parts of Britain.
The Conservative Party has made progress in Scotland and held its ground across England. Only in London has it crashed to defeat.
I believe that London 2016 mayoral election will go down in history as one of the most noxious political campaigns of modern times.
It has already drawn comparisons with notorious 1983 by-election in Bermondsey, where the Labour candidate Peter Tatchell was targeted on account of his homosexuality. Smethwick in 1964, when the Conservatives ran a racist campaign against black immigrants, is a more ancient comparison.
It is paradoxical that Zac Goldsmith made his reputation as an especially fair-minded and decent MP for Richmond. I still believe that he is at heart a decent man. But if he is to save his reputation, he needs urgently to apologise for his disgusting campaign.
But we Londoners can feel proud of ourselves. Sadiq Khan will be the first Muslim mayor of our great city. This is an historic moment because Khan has won the office with the biggest electorate available in British democracy. He will be the most visible politician in the country apart from the prime minister.
We Londoners put him there, and ignored the rancid slurs from the Conservative camp. Tonight London – and Britain – has a great deal to celebrate. As for David Cameron’s Conservatives, they have demeaned themselves. They need to reflect on their crass and ugly behavior. We Londoners have taught Mr Cameron a lesson in basic decency. Hoorah - three cheers for us and three cheers for Sadiq Khan!
- Peter Oborne was British Press Awards Columnist of the Year 2013. He recently resigned as chief political columnist of the Daily Telegraph. His books include The Triumph of the Political Class; The Rise of Political Lying;and Why the West is Wrong about Nuclear Iran.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.
Photo: Britain's Labour party candidate for London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park in east London, on 28 April, 2016 (AFP).