Cabinet minister Michael Fallon has refused to condemn Zac Goldsmith’s London mayoral campaign despite widespread criticism within the Conservative Party.
Questions were raised over the racist tone of Tory-led attacks on Sadiq Khan, who was this morning confirmed as the capital’s mayor with the biggest electoral mandate in British history.
It means the Labour MP is the first Muslim elected mayor of a European capital city, and he hailed Londoners for choosing "hope over fear" in his victory speech - an implicit reference to the attacks.
Speaking on the BBC’s Radio 4’s Today, senior minister Fallon, who had described Khan as a “Labour lackey who speaks alongside extremists”, defended the “scrutiny and questioning” and argued the media asked the same questions.
He later told BBC One's Breakfast: "In the rough and tumble of elections you get things said, questions asked.”
Those who have slammed Goldsmith’s pitch include Baroness Warsi, the first Tory Muslim Cabinet minister, David Cameron’s former advisor Steve Hilton and Tory grandee Ken Clarke. His sister, Jemima Khan, was also critical.
At Prime Minister’s Questions two weeks running, David Cameron pointed out how Khan, a former lawyer, shared a platform with alleged extremist Suliman Gani - a claim repeated by Fallon today, even though Gani denies backing ISIS.
Fallon said: “Questions were asked about the platforms he shared with various extremists, and those questions were asked by not just by us but the media too. Even on your own programme. Now he has been elected mayor we must work with him for a successful London.”
He added: “Your own Andrew Neil on a BBC programme said of his appearance with Suliman Gani, a supporter of Daesh Islamic State, that he appeared with him on a platform nine times. And Sadiq Khan said he regretted giving the impression he supported the views of terrorists. Those questions were put to him and he answered them.”
Asked whether he was proud of the campaign, Fallon said: “We’ll look at the campaign, but I don’t think you should exempt a candidate from one of the highest offices in Britain from scrutiny and questioning. It wasn’t just done by us, it was the media.”
After dodging whether the capital was safe under Khan three times, he eventually said: “London is safe working with a Conservative government working with the new mayor of London, yes.”
On Radio 4’s Any Questions last night, Clarke said Goldsmith’s campaign was a “mistake”.
He added: “It probably had a counter-productive effect, yes. I don’t know how far Zac ran it, how far it was the media, how far it was misguided advisers.
“The likelihood was every Muslim in London would turn out to vote for the other side, and a lot of metropolitan people in London who have civilised, One Nation Tory views thought this was rather startling.”