Londoners win by rejecting ‘dog whistle’ politics and fear
Londoners have spoken.
Sadiq Khan, son of a bus driver brought up in a council house and a political underdog from a Muslim background, has won the London mayoral election, amid widespread accusations of "dog whistle" campaigns from his Tory rival Zac Goldsmith.
The catch was, in the midst of widespread concerns over his negative campaign strategy, many including some Tory-voting Muslims in his own constituency turned their back on Zac Goldsmith and voted for Khan. Goldsmith repeatedly denied the allegations, but ordinary Londoners who were left feeling frustrated made up their mind. Goldsmith was known as a nice politician, but probably power politics and his not-so-nice strategists changed his mannerism during the election campaign. London, a world city that speaks 300 languages, can now really feel proud.
Most Londoners wanted politics in this diverse mega city to be humane and fun as well as liberating from the traditional Westminster "Punch and Judy" mode in our great democracy. This was superbly displayed on the night of 28 April in the Mayoral Accountability Assembly, organised by Britain’s largest grass-root civil society body Citizens UK and its London arm, London Citizens, at the Copper Box arena in the Olympic Park. Over 6,000 Londoners - activists and followers from 220 multi-faith and no-faith affiliates that represented at least 350,000 people across the city – gathered in a jovial mood to take to task the two front-running candidates - Sadiq Khan (Labour) and Zac Goldsmith (Conservative).
They demanded from each candidate some key specific pledges from the future mayor - such as the London living wage, jobs and employment opportunities for young people and, most crucially, practical solutions on London's serious housing crisis. Both candidates agreed with the demands and tried to convince the audience as well as the outside world that they were the right person to lead London.
The assembly highlighted an alternative civil version of how to conduct a politics of accountability and gave Londoners a sense of liberation from the usual accusatory politics.
This style of non-partisan politics and grass-root popular participation to reclaim power from career politicians has shown how citizens organising can impact on politics in recent times in several countries. In the US the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), established in 1940, pioneered community organising with religious congregations and civic organisations to help strengthen citizen leadership. In the UK citizens organising started in the East End with the East London Communities Organisation (TELCO) in the mid-1990s, which grew into London Citizens and then into Citizens UK.
Peaceful co-existence and appreciation amongst people is vital in a pluralist society. Human diversity is not only a beautiful thing but a necessity in our interconnected and interdependent world. People are not born to be clones of each other. As diversity enhances creativity, it is a source of strength not weakness. As humans we have natural differences, but we are better together. Diversity, however, does not mean isolation, segregation or insularity - for that surely defeats the whole purpose.
The values of community life and the need to build strong communities of mutual support connect fellow citizens who want to achieve a fairer and more just society for everyone. Citizens organising thus builds bridges amongst people and communities and allays fears and myths between them.
Young people with their energy and innovative qualities are naturally more comfortable with creative diversity. They are always an asset but can be impressionable and inexperienced; they will make mistakes and then learn from them. As such, they should not be dealt with a top-down diktat - be it from the political, religious or community leadership. Otherwise, there can be a backlash and unsatisfactory results.
In our towns and cities up and down the country we live as neighbours and our children attend the same schools with similar curricula. If there is ghettoisation in some areas, this needs serious study and collective effort to minimise it - not blame one group or another.
There must be a better way to resolve our differences. There are examples of success, so the message of optimism needs to be recognised and shared across the country and at all levels. We all have a crucial role in maintaining moral sanity and social stability in the country. Needless to say our powerful political class and media establishments have bigger responsibilities in this too.
The continuous anxiety in the Muslim community, rising Islamophobia and the challenges it has been facing in the media since 7/7 - made worse by the cold-blooded murder of Lee Rigby in 2013, and exacerbated by the rise of Daesh and massacres across the English Channel - has made Muslim participation in public life very difficult, if not almost impossible. This unfortunate situation is not only hampering young Muslims in their desire and ability to engage in public life but also dividing neighbours and communities in our heartland of democracy.
A triumph against fear
Khan’s victory as the mayor of the world’s greatest city is not only a testimony to London’s success in accommodating and celebrating diversity but will definitely give a boost to Muslim morale and people's determination to work for the common good rhrough civic participation.
However angry the extremists on both sides may be now, this has given a clear message around the world that anyone with ability and ambition has a place in Britain’s public sphere.
In this period of optimism it is vital that citizens, Londoners and beyond, now wage a war against our common enemies that keep on dividing us: ignorance, prejudice, intolerance and fear.
- Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, author and parenting consultant. He is a Council member of the Citizens UK. You can follow him on Twitter @MAbdulBari
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 incoming London Mayor Sadiq Khan (C) attends his swearing-in ceremony at Southwark Cathedral in central London on 7 May, 2016 (AFP).
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