Class war to race row: The bitter electoral journey expected to end in London’s first Muslim mayor

Britain's Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith (L) and Sadiq Khan, Britain's Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London. © Hannah McKay
Londoners casting their ballots in the capital’s mayoral election are expected to make Labour’s Sadiq Khan the first Muslim to take City Hall. Throughout a charged campaign, Khan and Tory rival Zac Goldsmith have consistently traded allegations of racism.

Originally framed as a collision between Labour’s working class Khan and multi-millionaire Tory Goldsmith, the elections ultimately descended into bitter claims of dog-whistle Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and terrorist sympathizing.

Labour’s Khan appears likely to come out on top, however, with a 20 point lead, helped along by a string of Goldsmith gaffes.

The Tory candidate sought to portray Khan as a threat to the city in a campaign article featuring an image of a bombed-out London bus taken the day of the 7/7 bombings, when Islamic terrorists attacked the capital in 2005.

Goldsmith subsequently claimed he had “publicly disowned” the article, which argued the Labour Party “thinks terrorists are its friends.

Goldsmith also made much of Khan appearing alongside Muslim cleric Suliman Gani, calling him “one of the most repellent figures in this country.” Prime Minister David Cameron later suggested in the House of Commons that Gani “supports Islamic State.

The tactic blew up in Goldsmith’s face, however, when it emerged that he had himself posed for a photograph with Gani, who turned out to be an active supporter of the Conservative Party.

Khan, meanwhile, has been caught up in the Labour anti-Semitism scandal. Matters were made worse after a clumsy intervention by Labour’s former London Mayor Ken Livingstone, who declared Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler had been a Zionist.

The Blairite Khan quickly distanced himself from both Livingstone and the Labour leadership, urging party chief Jeremy Corbyn to “get a grip” on the issue.

I’ve been so unhappy because the impression has been given that they don’t understand how appalling anti-Semitism is, that there’s a hierarchy when it comes to racism,” he told the Evening Standard at the time.

Corbyn has responded to the row by suspending Livingstone and announcing a full inquiry led by former Liberty chief and human rights lawyer Shami Chakrabarti.

It has led some critics to suggest Labour will lose electoral ground over the row on a day when both local councils and devolved assemblies in Wales and Scotland face the polls.

On Thursday, a Labour spokesman told Reuters: “We’re not in the business of losing seats and we’ll be fighting to win as many as possible tomorrow.