The Greasy Pole column from the June 2016 issue of the Socialist Standard
Spare a thought for Zac Goldsmith. For Frank Zacharias Robin ‘Zac’ Goldsmith. For the son of a proliferous billionaire who left him to struggle through life on an inheritance of between two hundred and three hundred million pounds, which represented a monthly income of about £5 million. For the pupil at Eton –- until they found forbidden drugs in his room. For one so convincing as a self-promoted defender of the natural world that his uncle gave him the magazine The Ecologist to do with what he liked, even to appoint himself as its editor. For the triumphantly victorious MP for Richmond Park against the industrious Lib Dem Susan Kramer. But one whose smooth rise up the Greasy Pole was obstructed when he devoted his talents and his riches to a campaign for election as Mayor of London – in which he was thwarted by the distinctly non-legatee Labour candidate Sadiq Khan. Thus Goldsmith’s case for election was not as elegantly appealing as those Richmond Tories must have assumed it would be and his copious ambitions were reduced to a state of baffled suspension. So spare a thought for him.
And for Sadiq Khan who stood as the underdog against the handsome, elegant Goldsmith. He could hardly have been more different for he is the youngest of five children whose grandparents came from Pakistan to take root in council housing in one of the rougher parts of London. His father was a bus driver and his mother a seamstress. Working his way through university Khan qualified as a solicitor, specialising in cases concerning human rights – which often brought him into conflict with the police (a teacher at his comprehensive school had advised him that his ‘argumentative personality’ made him a natural to study law instead of dentistry as he intended). In 2005, after a spell as a councillor in Wandsworth, he became the MP for Tooting and in 2009, when he was made Minister of State for Transport under Gordon Brown, he was the first Muslim to attend the Cabinet. He then held a succession of shadow ministerial posts under Ed Miliband. In this process he was establishing a number of records, often related to being a Muslim but including such as regularly being placed by the Evening Standard among the Top 100 London politicians and, in 2005, awarded the ‘Newcomer Of The Year’ by the Spectator for ‘…the tough-mindedness and clarity with which he has spoken out about the very difficult issues of Islamic terror’. But none of these counted as crucial in the battle against Zac Goldsmith for the London Mayoralty. No matter that Kahn could offer the usual promises: against this was the slickness of Goldsmith’s office and his experienced media advisers with their well-honed voting strategies.
But this was a case when those experts in the dog-whistle style of voter-manipulation placed themselves in a position which was evidently ill-advised. For they seemed to have decided that as Sadiq Khan is a Muslim there were votes to be won by associating him with the terrorist operations which are among the current problems across the world. One example of this appeared when theGuardian of 30 April publicised a letter written by David Cameron to Anita Vasisht who is a lawyer specialising in immigration problems. Cameron warned that any policy resulting from the united efforts of Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan would bring about a situation in which ‘Londoners will become lab rats in a giant political experiment’. The implication of this was more obvious in a letter from David Cameron to another lawyer which stated that only Goldsmith could be relied on to ‘…keep our streets safe from terrorist attacks’. At the same time, and on the same theme, there was Boris Johnson in the Daily Telegraph accusing Sadiq Khan of ‘…pandering to the extremists. I don’t want him running our capital’. And Teresa May, whose earliest claim to fame was when she denounced the Tories as ‘the nasty party’, warning their spring conference that Khan would be ‘unsafe’ to run London when it faced ‘…a significant threat of terrorism’. These attacks on Khan as a Muslim terrorist were not entirely welcome in the Tory party. Their ex-chair Baroness Warsi later referred to the election loss as a result as an ‘appalling dog-whistle campaign’ which ‘lost us the election, our reputation and credibility on issues of race and religion’. Steve Hilton, previously infamous as the party’s election master mind, regretted that it had brought back that ‘nasty party label to the Conservatives’.
The overall effect of this, with the ominous survey ratings which gave Khan a solid lead, may have persuaded those Tory strategists to try another style of deceit, by sending Goldsmith out in the early morning disguised as a milkman on his rounds. However Goldsmith was not travelling in one of those snuffling battery floats but in a posh black limousine. We were supposed to believe that he was delivering that milk to what looked like some posh mews in a place like Kensington. But of course one effect of this was to arouse those well-used, long-ago slogans about Thatcher The Milk Snatcher.
Sadiq Khan became the new Mayor of London by defeating Zac Goldsmith by 14 percentage points. From the piracy that is now the Labour Party he may emerge as their new leader. Meanwhile he must make his mark through some particular policies which he claims will adjust, or even eliminate, the merciless realities which distort the lives and the wellbeing of what are called ordinary hard-working citizens. At present there are few surprises in these; for example an intention to build genuinely affordable homes; to ensure that the streets of London are cleaner, safer. There is one novelty in the introduction of a new public transport ticket known as the Hopper which at first threatens to require harassed commuters to become mathematically agile as they are about to board the bus or the train. London is a great example of capitalism in sordid operation with its proliferation of social dislocation and hopeless responses. The election struggle between Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith was no more than another rejected opportunity for the people in this part of the world to begin the historical change for the better.