Sadiq Khan: The Working-Class Londoner Who Refused to Be An 'Invisible Muslim'

09/05/2016 11:51

I'm not a Londoner. Quite the opposite: I live in the wilds of Northumberland. Because of this, I had very little emotional 'investment' in the London mayoral election. Despite my relative insouciance, I found myself pleased with the outcome (as pleased as a committed Green could have been) and horrified by some of the reactions to Sadiq Khan's election in equal measure.

The negativity began as Khan was making his victory speech. Paul Golding, 'leader' of far-right group Britain First, turned his back in protest at the outcome of the election. As one might expect, no one really cared and Golding ended up looking like a bit of a plonker, frankly. Then came the inevitable apocalyptic hashtag. #LondonHasFallen was deployed by hundreds of unabashed racists to decry the election of the first Muslim mayor of a major western capital city. Over-dramatic, much?

Interestingly, when you try to enter 'Sadiq' on an iPhone, it autocorrects to 'Sadie'. Even on mobiles, Muslims are invisible. Let's be honest, when push comes to shove, we prefer our Muslims shut away from wider society, spending their time learning to recite the Koran or butchering animals for halal meat. Why? Because heaven forbid Muslims play a full part in British society or help to enrich the lives of their fellow Brits. When Nadiya Hussain baked her way to victory on The Great British Bake Off last year, it was apparently because she was Muslim, an obvious token of the much-hated 'political correctness' that has become every racist's weapon of choice when faced with the reality of their own Neanderthal views. Of course, those of us with a modicum of social awareness know that in many ways, Hussain's success came despite her religion and because of kilos of talent and tablespoonfuls of charm. After all, the news aside, how many other hijab-wearing women have you seen on TV at all, let alone baking the perfect, quintessentially British Victoria Sponge?

There is a certain tragic irony behind the fact that Britain First and the BNP (yes, they still exist, apparently) performed best ('best' meaning anything above 0.5% in their case) in areas described as largely 'white working-class'. Watching Sadiq Khan speak so passionately about his background, what struck me was not his race, nor his religion, but rather the joyous transition from Etonian privilege à la Boris Johnson to a mayor in tune with the lived experience of the everyday Londoner. The son of an immigrant bus driver, brought up on a council estate, Khan brings to City Hall a sound grasp of the reality of life for 'ordinary' people that Zac Goldsmith, despite cringeworthy photo calls 'down the local', could only dream of. It is precisely that broad insight that should unite all those of us devoid of silver spoons in our mouths in delight at Khan's ascension to the mayoralty. It's exasperating that instead of seeing beyond race and religion and acknowledging the bond of solidarity between Londoners that have striven to forge their destiny, rather than had everything handed to them on a silver platter, so many allow themselves to be exploited for political gain by the likes of Golding and co.

I'm not saying Sadiq Khan is perfect. In truth, I have never really paid him a great deal of attention. Neither am I necessarily under any illusion that he is some sort of working-class messiah. He has much to prove as the British politician with the largest personal mandate in UK electoral history. Nonetheless, it is a milestone in our history that we should celebrate. We should be proud to see this son of Pakistani immigrants achieve what he has. We should recognise - and indeed commend - his decision to be sworn in at a multi-faith ceremony at Southwark Cathedral.

Londoners should rejoice that the immigrant bus driver's son from Tooting refuses to be an 'invisible Muslim'. Above all, they should be immensely relieved that City Hall is finally occupied by a mayor that has walked in the shoes of the majority of the population. That kind of insight is the sort of string to one's bow that no amount of inherited wealth can buy.