Sadiq Khan – playing the politics of race again

Sadiq Khan is playing the race card again, this time in his campaign to be Labour’s candidate for London Mayor.

Khan, who managed Ed Miliband’s successful Labour leadership campaign in 2010, was talking to George Eaton of the New Statesman about fellow candidate Tessa Jowell, and said:

“I don’t think [Jowell’s] got the answers for the 2020s, the future business, we’re a modern city, we’re young, we’re diverse.”

Sadiq Khan, MP for Tooting.
We can see here that Khan thinks Tessa Jowell hasn’t got the answers and shouldn’t be Major in part because she isn't 'diverse'. He contrasts her to a ‘we’ which is ‘diverse’, as well as modern, young and of the future. It illustrates once more how this notion of diversity in the hands of left-wingers actually often excludes white people. On the left it's one of those words that actually means something different from its literal meaning; often only those who are attuned to the language can pick up the difference - but here it's quite clear.

Khan’s view that being white is a reason that someone shouldn’t be Mayor in Britain’s capital city will perhaps not affect him negatively in the upcoming primary election involving Labour members and supporters in London. So ingrained is this ideology that white members of the London Labour Establishment routinely use the same sort of language and in the same way. Margaret Hodge has repeatedly said she thinks someone of coloured skin should be Mayor this time due to London’s diversity, invoking that justification for supporting Khan. Jowell herself boasted after the 2014 European and local elections that “These results [in London] show London to be an open, tolerant and diverse city” – in contrast to the country as a whole, in which UKIP topped the European poll.

But beyond Labour and left-wing tribalist circles, and probably, to an extent, the white-skinned population of London – this sort of message will go down like a lead balloon.

It is also surely not a good thing sending messages that white British, and especially older white British, don’t count as diverse and should not be representing diverse places – not least the capital city of what remains a majority-white country. This seems rather divisive.

Khan has form in pushing the politics of race though.

In a speech to Operation Black Vote last year, he used some pretty aggressive divide-and-rule language while playing rather fast and loose with the evidence. He said:

“The fact is that if you are black or Asian in Britain today:
You are significantly more likely to be unemployed.
You will earn less
And you will live a shorter life than your white neighbours.”

In actual fact, British Hindus, Sikhs and Chinese are doing much better than white Britons on average these days; it is specifically the Muslim and black populations that are not doing so well, and we know with the former that this is largely because so many of them (specifically Sylheti Bangladeshis and Mirpuri Pakistanis) come from poor rural areas, have poor educational backgrounds and routinely import spouses which helps entrench their separation. Khan also fails to recognise that it is unrealistic to expect many recent immigrants to be taking top jobs in the professions like law and the civil service, not least those with poor English and qualifications.  

Nevertheless, Khan claimed that the statistics represent “an injustice that causes untold economic and social damage to our country”, skating over how keen many black and Asian people are to swap their former countries and come to Britain to face this terrible situation.

Meanwhile, on the judiciary, he said: “It’s crucial our judges and magistrates look like and have similar backgrounds to those they preside over.”

So, if you thought the crucial point of being a magistrate or judge was impartially implementing the law without fear or favour, think again. Instead of being impartial, in the charge of Khan judges and magistrates would be expected to provide representation, to look like and have similar backgrounds to those they are judging. Given that they are presiding over those accused of crime I’m not sure this is a great idea, but the logic seems to be more along the lines of having British Bangladeshi plaintiffs being represented by British Bangladeshi judges - basically establishing communal affiliation as the basis of justice.

I don’t deny there are issues in these areas and others that Khan has talked about, but his treatment of them is consistently misleading and unnecessarily divisive. They will surely prove politically toxic if exposed to the wider public. Maybe he is banking on the minority ethnic vote getting him over the line, but I don’t see a strategy like that working – those you alienate will surely be much more motivated.

We shall see, but it was notable to see Len Duvall, leader of the Labour group in the London Assembly, pointedly backing Jowell. Duvall said:

“People have got to think carefully about any other candidate in terms of their skills and also how they would attract those second preference votes.”

The original version of this story had Duvall warning against candidates picking up bloc votes from unions and mosques, but the wording was later changed so that it was the journalist who put that possibility to him. Nevertheless the Standard published a response from a spokesman for Khan: “It is deeply offensive to all Londoners that Len Duvall has singled out the Muslim community in his endorsement of Tessa Jowell. We would hope that Tessa distances herself from these comments immediately. You can't become Mayor by dividing London and Londoners.”

Dividing London and Londoners is what Khan himself is doing though, and he has a track record of it. More generally though, this is just how the politics of identity works - and by the looks of it we're going to continue tying ourselves in awful knots with it.

For more on not dissimilar topics, see Identity Politics and the left page, and The Labour Party and other Party Politics page.


  1. What an awful and cynical game Khan plays. And note, he has appeared at public events alongside CAGE and was a supporter of convicted terrorist fundraiser Babar Ahmed in his campaign against extradition. This is how dirty racial identity politics works. Double speak, incitement, and then claiming to be the innocent party.

    1. The double speak is indeed quite something. "...we’re young, we’re diverse." We're all the same, yet we're diverse?

  2. Uh, for the love of God.

    As Mike C has noted, the diversity brigade want to ''celebrate difference'' by making everywhere the same.

    I think it's also rather racist to expect that ethnic minorities will continue to vote Labour - one of the wake up calls I had on this issue was when an American friend of Indian descent said of the Occupy protests, ''it's white kids pissed off because they're not on top anymore''.

    Regarding the ''diversity is strength'' meme, well in ecosystems it might be, but human beings are deeply tribal and there is compelling evidence that you can have diverse societies but you might not necessarily be able to make them progressive ones. The immigration expert, Paul Collier, examines the issue here:

    I've tried to boil down my opposition to further mass immigration / multiculturalism thusly: I don't want to live in a small densely populated version of the United States.

  3. Khan is playing a very nasty, dangerous game that will incite religious hatred. He should be barred. The man is also a compulsive liar.

  4. Ben, have you got ethnic minority and/or Muslim friends - what is their take on this?

    This is the narrative (I think): as a white British male - how could you possibly understand? Any criticism of Khan from you is obviously 'racist'...

  5. Ben, have you got ethnic minority/Muslim friends - what is their view on this (particularly now that Khan is London mayor)?

    1. It varies Catherine. I won't go into my personal life here, but some people agree and others disagree across religious and racial boundaries.

  6. Thanks.

    A true Machiavellian - in my (carefully considered) opinion he controlled the narrative throughout the Mayoral campaign.

    Now that he has the prize I hope he will make a positive difference - and that the means will justify the end. I remain concerned, however, that his approach may continue to be 'inheritantly divisive'. An interesting comment on Khan's 'dog whistling' by Charles Moore in the Telegraph on 2nd May.

    London Mayor is not 'a destination job'. I was thinking PM, but now I'm thinking, maybe, ruler of the world...

    Any further thoughts you have would be much appreciated.

  7. Thanks.

    Does the end justify the means?


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