London prides itself on its cultural diversity, complex demographics and vibrant communities. With so many different heritages and faiths living in such close quarters, there is an air of celebration at London’s forward approach to embracing variety. May 5th was a landmark day not only in British politics but in British history.
The Mayoral elections paved the way for positive change in the city. Given that Boris Johnson had already announced that he would not be standing again, the empty chair (or bicycle seat, in Boris’s case) was waiting to be claimed.
It was a two-horse race from the start, with Labour’s Sadiq Khan and the Conservatives’ Zac Goldsmith charging at the prize, both bursting with policies and promises that aimed to change London for the better.
But when Khan was declared the winner, the significance of his landslide win transcended politics and became something so much more.
With the world becoming increasingly polarised and the media focussing on the damaging influences of minority Islamic hate-groups, it has never been so important to show that London really is one of the world’s fairest societies. The faith that London residents have put in this brown-skinned, dual-heritage, liberally-inclined Muslim directly demonstrates that the power of community can often outweigh the scaremongering tactics of mainstream media.
And some might say this is the fairest win of all. Only 45% of the cities population are white British, with the other 55% identifying as another ethnicity or nationality. There is also a vast landscape of religious beliefs embedded into London culture. Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews co-exist alongside an array of other minority faiths and groups, all of whom are free to practise their beliefs, but don’t necessarily feel fairly represented or understood. Khan’s win may be able to unite the overall population further, connecting communities that have otherwise felt invisible in a white-washed world and giving a voice to London residents no matter their heritage or religion.
So what does Khan offer London other than hope for a more accepting and fairer attitude towards cultural differences?
Firstly, anyone who has ever tried to live in any of London’s boroughs will know that housing is cramped, expensive and often poorly managed. Khan fully accepts the reality that many people now belong to the ‘renter’s generation’: that section of young adults who will likely never own their own home unless they inherit one. So with this in mind, a London Living Rent Scheme will be introduced where the rents are a third of local average wages, making living in this type of accommodation affordable, with an additional promise to scrap high agency fees and dodgy slumlords.
He also discusses travel and transport. Commuting in London is increasingly expensive. The average city worker spends more than £1,700 per year on travel tickets and Oyster Cards and usually this is just to get to work and back. Khan would like to introduce a price freeze, and a one-hour-unlimited-bus-ticket for regular travellers, something that will likely be wholly welcome from east to west.
But one of the most significant promises is a pledge to fight visa restrictions on talented foreign nationals joining the London workforce. This may be especially brave considering at the time he could not have predicted where the majority vote would fall on the EU Referendum, which will inevitably impact on any issues relating to immigration. It is also a bold move to prove that London authorities recognise that there is a genuine need for qualified, skilled workers regardless of their heritage or place of birth, a concept lost on many far right organisations.
Khan hasn’t forgotten that equal opportunities create the fairest path to gaining meaningful employment. His vow to create more apprenticeships for young people shows a willingness to train all members of the general public regardless of their socioeconomic boundaries. As university fees are set to soar once again, Khan gives hope to those young people who will slip through the net, and ensure that there are options for everybody, not just the privileged or academically talented. After all, as the son of a local bus driver and seamstress, he knows only too well what it means to grow up with the odds stacked against him.
While many Londoners may feel relieved and liberated to see a Muslim Mayor in power, don’t make the mistake of assuming all Muslims agree with his policies and public approach. In 2013, Khan voted in favour of legalising gay marriage, leading to him receiving violent death threats from less liberal members of the Muslim community. According to local press reports some even publicly suggested he was an apostate from Islam and demanded he repent before Allah. Regardless, Khan persevered in order to demonstrate that tolerance and multiculturalism can co-exist within London’s boundaries, working from the premise that equality should be a human right for everyone.
His views haven’t made him any less Muslim, and there will always be traditional world-views that cannot come to accept certain modern laws and practises.
And it’s not just minority Muslims who have taken a swing at the new Mayor. On the run up to the election, right-wing political activist and head of the anti-Islamic group, Britain First, Paul Golding, declared that he was also standing for the job. However, instead of using his campaign to discuss London issues, Golding spent his entire election pot on producing baffling propaganda designed to spread false information about Khan, linking him to well known terrorist groups and radicalisation. His endeavours, of course, fell flat, and he polled just one per cent of the vote.
But despite the subversive subgroups that have tried and failed to divide the population, Khan continues to give hope for a fully integrated, respectful system. One where opinions are tolerated, diversity is celebrated and haters are drowned out by the growing collective voice of London’s 8.5 million residents whose common goal is to have a fair, integrated and united society.