Tuesday, 1 March 2016

The smearing of Sadiq Khan


If one were to believe the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, if Sadiq Khan was to become Mayor of London, the capital would be under genuinely more threat from terrorism than if Zac Goldsmith wins the race for City Hall.

This threat would not emerge because Khan is going to drastically cut police numbers, or that, as a Muslim, Khan would suddenly allow extremists of the Abu Hamza variety to take to the street once more and peddle their dangerous views to vulnerable young men and women. No, it’s because London, according to Mr Fallon, needs a ‘candidate who can unite our city, not a Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists, proving himself unfit to perform that role’. His attack has prompted today's Evening Standard headline to scream: 'Minister; Khan is unfit to be mayor'. People don't even need to read the paper for it to have an impact.

Michael Fallon is basically claiming Sadiq Khan is a terrorist sympathiser, on the basis that his former brother-in-law Makbool Javaid almost 20 years ago had taken part in events with the extremist group Al-Mulajiroun and whose name appeared on a fatwa in 1998 calling for a ‘full scale war of jihad’. Quite why Sadiq Khan should be responsible for his ex-brother-in-law’s long since abandoned views is not clear, especially as they haven't met for 12 years. Moreover, that Mr Javaid is now a partner in the legal firm Simons Muirhead & Burton – not obviously a harbinger of jihad - that he now repudiates those views and regrets his 'naivety' is buried. 

Khan has also faced criticism for appearing at rallies where extremists were in attendance including one in 2006, the Global Peace and Unity conference where, apparently, the black flag of jihad could be seen. That former attorney general Dominic Grieve and former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg were also there has provoked less attention.

It is no surprise it is Fallon launching this attack on Khan; it was, after all, Fallon who said Ed Miliband would stab his country in the back like he had his brother during the general election campaign. But he goes much further than Zac Goldsmith has. The Tory candidate has accused Sadiq Khan of being a 'radical' - a loaded word in itself - and claimed a Labour mayor would inflict Jeremy Corbyn's experiments upon London. But, ultimately these can be considered part of the rough and tumble of a mayoral contest.

Fallon's words, however, have a deeply worrying undercurrent; that Sadiq Khan is Muslim inevitably makes them a smear. Whether they are true claims or not is irrelevant, mud sticks. That Sadiq Khan has long been a voice of moderation and been active at trying to tackle radicalisation counts for little it seems.

Having met and interviewed all the major mayoral candidates, all have appeared decent people, with a rich variety of ideas. Londoners do have a genuine choice at this election. Candidates are united that the housing crisis facing London must be at the top of the next mayor's agenda but each has a different approach. There are genuine gulfs of opinion between the two front runners, Zac and Sadiq. They disagree on affordable housing definitions and targets and transport fares. The public should be able to see these differences and vote accordingly and not have the debate muddied with ugly smear tactics.

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