THE BLOG

Leicester City and the Mayor of London

10/05/2016 11:54

In the run up to voting in the London mayoral election Conservative Candidate Zac Goldsmith remarked that he was hoping to 'do a bit of Leicester City, zoom in from behind and win it' in the race. Poor Zac demonstrated the hard learned political lesson than making cultural references you don't understand only makes you look more ignorant and irrelevant than if he'd just kept quiet and shrugged when they asked him about Bollywood. He also failed to realise that he isn't Leicester City anyway. His opponent is.

I know even die-hard fans have read as much about Leicester City's unlikely victory than they are likely to wish to in the 132 years since they last won it. I'll try to make this quick. You'll have read about how this feet was deemed less likely than Kim Kardashian becoming the next US President. The trouble is this sort of comparison is unhelpful because these sort of things are just bookmakers being silly (and why not?). A better comparison might be that it would be like the Green Party winning the next General election. If you suggested the idea to party leader Natalie Bennett she would just look at you blankly, especially if you were interviewing her live on LBC.

But that doesn't really matter, because that's not what gets people so excited. The five other clubs who have won the premier league in it's history have all spent big. The current crop of realistic contenders all have players who cost them £20m, £30m even £40m. Leicester's record signing cost a little over £9m. The reason that any of this matters is that nine times out of ten football is won by the richest club who can pay and attract the best players and then continue to make the most money. This season the big spenders fell away and the minnows rose to the top. That you are never so rich you can buy any success, and never so impoverished that you can't achieve the impossible is surely a lesson worth celebrating, even if you don't like football.

Sadiq Khan's victory was of a different sort. As the Labour Party candidate he was never a rank outsider nor was his campaign impoverished. He was, however, a Muslim in an era and city where politicians and press alike have worked hard to use Islam as a an evil bogeyman, bent on locking up our women and disrupting our bus services with their relentless praying. When the Tories used tactics they had previously condemned (namely warning against Labour with the image of the London bus destroyed in the July 7th bombings) it was bad sign. When the main mention of the race the day of Khan's win in the next day's papers was to castigate Goldsmith for being too racist (although not quite racist enough for the press to notice while he was doing it) it was obvious that Khan did not have the press on his side. Racial profiling, racists scaremongering and widespread press opposition aren't the ideal foundations on which to build a successful election campaign. The fact that Sadiq Khan won in the circumstances he did proves much. It proves that press cannot win an election. It proves than smearing your opponent is not enough if you have nothing to offer yourself. It proves that an electorate can look at a black candidate and a white candidate, ignore the sneering of the white candidate and pick the black one because they think he'll do a better job.

It might seem foolish to talk about a football competition and a democratic election as if they were comparable. Maybe I've extrapolated a certain mawkish sentimentality from the simple facts. Maybe. But if they only other option is certainty of failure, I'll take possibility of the improbable, thanks.

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