Barely weeks had passed after last year’s general election before George Osborne was putting the minimum wage up by 20 per cent and Michael Gove was making big noises about transforming the life chances of prisoners. Neither thing was in the election manifesto in any meaningful way. Both are overwhelming evidence that David Cameron, the self styled heir to Blair, is acutely aware of British politics’ one great rule. You decimate the opposition by evicting them from the centre ground.
Which only makes the ferociously ugly spectacle of London’s mayoral election campaign, which is mercifully almost over, all the more curious.
The stampede to the fringes has been profound. One minute Sadiq Khan stands accused of calling moderate muslims ‘Uncle Toms.’ Indeed he did, but it happened six years ago. Then the Sikh and Hindu doormats of South London have a question land upon them. Is Muslim Sadiq ‘on your side’?
You hardly need to see the face of Zac Goldsmith smiling out at you from its vantage point on a byline in the Daily Mail beneath that exploded bus in Tavistock Square to work out that this is an election in which the battle lines have been very clearly drawn.
That all this has coincided with Labour’s mad self-immolation on the subject of anti-semitism, sparked by a handful of stupid Facebook comments and then turned into a mighty conflagration via the petrol vomiting gob of Ken Livingstone, is unfortunate coincidence.
But these factors combined are sufficient to wonder whether, or indeed why, today’s election heralds a strange return, or indeed arrival, for the question of race in mainstream politics.
For one reason it was inevitable. London’s White British are a minority population. A massive minority admittedly 45 per cent. By comparison, the UK at large is 87 per cent white. London’s next mayor, barring a minor psephological miracle, will not be white.
So what? Naturally, people look at the broad brush stroke that is an election result and see within it whatever texture they wish to. When Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to attend cabinet, becomes London’s mayor, it will be proof that cosmopolitan London doesn’t care about race. It doesn’t. But it will also have borne witness to an at times gruesome campaign. And it’s likely that kind of behaviour, at least in London, might be here to stay.
With more than 24 hours to go before the results are known, the consensus of opinion among those who observe politics with their noses pressed too close against the glass is that Zac Goldsmith’s deliberately divisive campaign has done nothing but damage him. The polls certainly indicate as much. But the polls, you may know, have been known to be wrong. Lynton Crosby, the strategist who masterminded the Tories’ campaign in 2015, has had his role in this one too.
And last time round, he who knew best. There has been speculation that Number 10 has compelled Goldsmith to fight this dirty because Khan in City Hall would be a particularly useful device for them when it comes to fighting for the bigger prizes. “There’s only one fact you need to know about Sadiq Khan. He nominated Jeremy Corbyn and he doesn’t regret it,” David Cameron said on Tuesday, a point he will repeat with Groundhog Day like frequency over the coming years.
But such speculation is still far fetched. Measuring out in the correct quantities all the reasons Goldsmith’s campaign has backfired is impossible to do with any certainty. Being pictured drinking a pint of beer with two hands doesn’t help. Nor does claiming to be ‘a big fan of Bollywood’ then being unable to name a single Bollywood actor or film.
To the same degree, Khan’s ethnicity comes with its advantages. Moreso arguably, in 2016, in London, than bearing the old Etonian tag, as Goldsmith does and uncompensated by any of the oozing Johnson charm, or even Cameron’s acutely honed everyman act.
Since the moment he won the nomination, Khan was always going to win at least that what the bookies have consistently thought. Turnout is expected to be low, and this will play in Goldsmiths’ favour. But don’t be surprised if the dividends reaped by a campaign of division, while not decisive, might nonetheless be real. And don’t be surprised if, at least for a little while, they find themselves here to stay.
Courtesy : independent.co.uk