The battle for London's mayorship: London may elect first Muslim mayor

Thursday 5th of May 2016

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Sadiq Khan, the Labour Party candidate, is poised to make history.

With Pakistani-origin Sadiq Khan likely to become London's new mayor, his Conservative foe Zac Goldsmith is using Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's name to woo Hindu and Sikh votes.

Mayoral elections rarely draw international attention. But the British capital is no ordinary city and its mayoralty is no ordinary office. London holds tremendous sway within Britain itself, both as an economic powerhouse and a population center. Roughly one in 10 members of Parliament come from the city’s constituencies—more than hail from Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.

The office itself is also something of an anomaly. British governance tends to favor councils of local officials and collective government by cabinets of ministers. London’s mayor, by comparison, is elected by millions of voters from the city and its surrounding suburbs. Because most of Britain does not directly vote for the ministers in Parliament, let alone the House of Lords or the queen, the mayor can claim a stronger democratic mandate than perhaps any British politician other than the prime minister.

Balloting is taking place on Thursday in England, Scotland and Wales to elect mayors and fill up assembly and parliamentary seats. The battle for London's mayorship has become the most high-profile contest.

All indications are that Khan, 45, a former human rights lawyer and a Labour MP from Tooting since 2005, will emerge the winner. That will make the former bus driver's son Europe's most powerful Muslim politician.

Khan was the transport minister in then Prime Minister Gordon Brown's government in 2009-10. He was the first Muslim minister to attend Cabinet meetings.

Khan was born at St George's Hospital in Tooting, South London, the fifth of eight children (seven sons and a daughter) in a family ofPakistani immigrants. His grandparents migrated from India to Pakistan following the partition of India in 1947, and his parents emigrated to England from Pakistan shortly before Khan was born. His late father, Amanullah Khan, worked as a bus driver for over 25 years; his mother, Sehrun, was a seamstress. From his earliest years, Khan worked, “I was surrounded by my mum and dad working all the time, so as soon as I could get a job, I got a job. I got a paper round, a Saturday job – some summers I laboured on a building site.” The family continues to send money to relatives in Pakistan, "because we’re blessed being in this country.”

Khan and his siblings grew up in a three-bedroom council flat on the Henry Prince Estate in Earlsfield. He attended Fircroft Primary School and Ernest Bevin College, a local comprehensive.

Khan studied science and mathematics at A-level, in the hope of eventually qualifying as a dentist. A teacher recommended that he read law, as he had an argumentative personality. The teacher's suggestion, along with the television programme LA Law, inspired Khan to do so. He entered the University of North London to study law.

He was a visiting lecturer at the University of North London, and a Governor of South Thames FE College. Vice-Chairman of the Legal Action Group (LAG), Khan also served as Chairman of the civil liberties pressure group Liberty (NCCL) for three years.

Married to solicitor Saadiya Ahmed, the couple have two daughters. Khan is proud of his British linkages.

In 2008 he was appointed Minister of State for Communities by Prime Minister Gordon Brown, becoming the second British Pakistani to serve in government. Khan later served as Minister of State for Transport. He joined the Shadow Cabinet of Ed Miliband as Shadow Secretary of State for Justice and Shadow Lord Chancellor in 2010. On 16 January 2013 he was also appointed Shadow Minister for London; on 11 May 2015 he resigned from the shadow cabinet to seek nomination as the Labour Party's mayoral candidate. On 11 September 2015, Khan was selected as the Labour candidate to run for the London mayoralty.

Muslim groups complain the mayoral contest has sunk to "disturbing lows". The Conservatives have been accused of trying to exploit racial tensions to help Goldsmith win, the Financial Times said.

Customised leaflets addressed to Hindu, Sikh and Tamil voters mention subjects such as Narendra Modi, the 1984 killing of Sikhs in India and the Sri Lankan civil war.

The Muslim Association of Britain said it was disturbed how some candidates had gone to extreme measures to attack either Islamic practices or Muslims to attract support.

Catherine Heseltine of the Muslim Public Affairs Committee, a civil liberties group, said Goldsmith was "obviously not interested in Muslim voters". She said the leaflets "effectively highlight to Hindu voters that Sadiq Khan is a Muslim".

One leaflet had a picture of Goldsmith meeting Modi on a visit to London and pointed out that Khan did not.

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