Something rather wonderful happened today: London elected the first Labour mayor for 8 years. Obviously it is not a national election but it’s a start. It filled my heart with joy.
I met Sadiq Khan two weeks ago and was impressed by his energy and enthusiasm. He toured round London like a whirlwind, from Portobello in the West to Crouch End in the North (where his face was superimposed on cakes in the fabulous Dunn’s bakery). Obviously he came to Kentish Town, where he made a great impression on my middle child Stanley. Political indoctrination starts at an early age…especially in North London.
Sadiq went East to Barking and Tower Hamlets and ended up South in Tooting, his home turf. Unlike many politicians, Sadiq does not come from privilege. He was born on a council estate, one of eight children, to a Pakistani bus driver. In an age where social mobility is frequently seen to be dying a slow death, there is no denying that Sadiq epitomises the dream – you can come from nothing and end up a success.
Obviously you can still be posh -like Tony Benn – or middle class – like myself – and still espouse left wing views. Just because you had advantages doesn’t have to make you a raving Tory – just as a lot of self made people end up voting Conservative. Political identity is complex – it can be tribal (can you name any right wing Scousers other than Edwina Currie) or it can be a form of rebellion against the class you come from.
But what I love about Sadiq is that he is the living, breathing proof that you can come from an ordinary family and be an immigrant and succeed. His story shows my students that it is worth trying to be somebody and that you do have a voice. As a young British Muslim male living in the inner city what have been your role models to date? A handful of sports stars or perhaps a few comedians? You may know a few people with money and obviously our hospitals are full of doctors of South Asian heritage. But now the Mayor of London is just like you. Obviously a very talented, ambitious version of you. But a version of you nonetheless. Is the appeal of political extremism or religious fundamentalism going to be as intense if you believe that you can make something of yourself. My students love Sadiq – just as they loved Barack Obama a few years ago – and I think this is incredibly positive.
Sadiq Khan is the face of 21st century London – vibrant, multicultural, inclusive and diverse. He represents the people who get the early bus to work, who pack the tubes and pour out of the trains every morning. He represents work, achievement and the desire to make London a city where it is possible to live without being a member of the global super rich. He has promised to build more affordable homes and I genuinely hope he achieves this as it saddens me deeply how expensive London has become to buy or even rent a home in. Part of this is down to demographics – London has 2 million more people living here than it did in the 1990s. But a lot of it is down to the cosy deals Boris did with developers and the current government’s utter contempt for social housing. This needs to change and I hope Sadiq will help.
I am also intrigued by the make-up of Sadiq’s team of advisors and supporters, which includes Oona King and Andrew Adonis. A very different Labour to the Labour of Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Livingstone and Diane Abbott. Sadiq is basically surrounded by Blairites – the people pushed to the margins by the Corbynistas. As they say, fortune’s wheel will turn…