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Sadiq Khan defies 'smear campaign' to become London's first Muslim mayor

Labour's Khan first Muslim to hold post after bitterly fought election in which opponent was accused of 'pulling politics into gutter'
During his campaign, Sadiq Khan pledged he would be 'the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists' (AFP)

The Labour Party’s Sadiq Khan was elected London’s mayor, according to official results on Friday, after one of the most bitterly fought and divisive campaigns in recent British political history.

Khan won 1,310,143 first and second preference votes in Thursday's election while his main rival Zac Goldsmith of the Conservative Party won 994,614.

"This election was not without controversy and I am so proud that London has today chosen hope over fear and unity over division," he said after the result was declared at City Hall, to applause and cheers from supporters.

"I hope that we will never be offered such a stark choice again. Fear doesn't make us safer, it only makes us weaker, and the politics of fear is simply not welcome in our city."

As he was speaking the candidate for the far-right Britain First party, Paul Golding, who was lined up with the other losing candidates behind Khan, turned his back.

Khan is the first Muslim to be the elected leader of the British capital, considered one of the country's most influential political posts outside of central government, and he will replace Boris Johnson, the outgoing Conservative mayor who had been in office since 2008.

Khan’s victory came in spite of repeated efforts by Goldsmith, his Conservative Party opponent, to suggest that human rights lawyer Khan was soft on extremism, resulting in complaints that he had run a smear campaign based on “out and out lies”.

Writing on Thursday, the day of the vote, Karl Turner, a Labour MP, wrote in the Independent newspaper that Goldsmith’s campaign had been “nothing short of disgraceful”.

“Zac is guilty of pulling politics into the gutter,” Turner wrote. “In setting out to smear and slur Sadiq, he has shown how the Tories have truly turned into the nasty party once more.”

Goldsmith was also attacked by members of his own party.

"He started to equate people of conservative religious views with sympathising with terrorism," Andrew Boff, leader of the Conservative group in the London Assembly, told the BBC.

"That sent a message out to many of the communities in London that's very difficult to justify."

Goldsmith's sister, Jemima, added to the criticism on Twitter, saying: "Sad that Zac's campaign did not reflect who I know him to be - an eco friendly, independent-minded politician with integrity."

She went on to congratulate Khan:

Goldsmith, whose campaign was run by Australian election strategist Lynton Crosby, repeatedly attacked Khan for “giving oxygen, sharing platforms and giving apologies for people who have extreme views”.

Khan retorted that many of those encounters involved people he was representing as a lawyer or with whom he was connected through his work.

He also made fighting extremism a central pledge of his campaign.

"London faces a deadly threat from extremism, radicalisation and terrorism. It’s a threat that I will act to tackle as Mayor. I will be the British Muslim who takes the fight to the extremists,” he said in a speech in March.

Khan, a member of parliament since 2005, is considered to be on the right wing of the Labour Party and a critic of the current leader Jeremy Corbyn.

Last week he criticised the party leadership over its handling of anti-Semitism allegations, suggesting that it had been slow to suspend Ken Livingstone, his Labour predecessor as London mayor, over remarks claiming that Hitler had once supported Zionism.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has also come in for criticism for his interventions in the campaign, which included seeking to link Khan to Suliman Gani, a local imam in Khan’s south London Tooting constituency, who Cameron claimed in parliament was a supporter of the Islamic State.

Gani called on Cameron to apologise for the remark and accused him of “defamation at the highest level”, while also revealing that he had attended Conservative Party events and canvassed and voted for the party at the last general election.

Writing for Middle East Eye, political commentator Peter Oborne said that Goldsmith's campaign had been the "most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter".

In an open letter, Oborne also called on Cameron to apologise to Gani. Instead, Cameron once again criticised Gani and linked him to Khan during parliamentary questions earlier this week.

On Friday, Oborne wrote: "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."

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