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Can you blame Sadiq Khan for wanting his cake and eating it?

Sadiq Khan facing two waysSadiq Khan was a former radical human rights lawyer and doing a good job as shadow secretary for justice when he also became shadow minister for London, and responsible for running the general election campaign in London. Perhaps it is too much to expect any politician who wants to be London’s mayor to turn down such an opportunity just because it would give an unfair advantage.

But if you take the opportunity and are the approved candidate of your party’s still-well-oiled political machine, you might choose to get someone else to deliver lectures to other candidates for mayor about focussing on the general election campaign rather than diverting resources from it. But not if you’re Sadiq Khan. Is that honest, or foolish?

For a minister in the tail end of the New Labour era, Sadiq Khan came with a track record most on the Left would regard as progressive. The year after entering parliament in 2005, together with other Muslim MPs and peers and Muslim community organisations, he wrote to Blair (then still PM) criticising the Iraq war and UK Middle East policy including attacks on civilians arguing that it put civilians at increased risk in the UK and abroad. Gordon Brown rewarded him with a ministerial job at Transport and 18 months later he found himself replacing his boss, Lord Adonis, who wasn’t eligible to sit in the Shadow Cabinet, running the leadership campaign that ended the career of the Blairite candidate. He’s a practising Muslim who’s also a social liberal which has made him the victim of abuse from many quarters.

Sadiq was first tipped as a future Mayor of London as long ago as 2009 by David Singleton, now News Editor of Politics Home, when he had ministerial responsibility for London’s transport. He’s clearly been serious about running since Ken Livingstone lost in May 2012. From then on, every aspect of the contest was deliberately tipped in his favour:

  • When he was appointed as Shadow Minister for London in January 2013 by a leader who later promised to remain “impeccably neutral”, everyone knew it was an appointment designed to help him with that objective – giving him “a cross-London remit (and lots of visits to London CLPs), and will only strengthen his hand when it comes to the selection“.
  • When the Collins report was being being prepared in the run up to the special party conference in March 2013, no-one wanted any form of primary nor to reduce the role of trade unions apart from Progress hardliners, not constituency parties, not London assembly members, not the London regional board. But, based on a conversation overheard between Ray Collins and Sadiq Khan, I am satisfied that the Collins report recommendations were designed to suit Sadiq Khan.
  • When the timetable for the selection of the mayoral candidate was drawn up, it was deliberately designed to give the shortest possible campaign period immediately after the general election, to make any longer informal campaign virtually impossible. This was to of benefit the only candidate with “legitimate” access to every part of the electorate throughout, even during the general election campaign itself.

Of course, he uses the opportunities these advantages give him to the maximum. And yet he also wastes no opportunity to reprimand other would-be mayoral candidates for distracting attention from the general election campaign:

  • In December 2013, before any Labour politician had announced their candidacy (although journalist Chritian Woolmar had done so), he accused those then known to be interested (Lammy, Jowell, Adonis and Abbott) of “playing ego politics” for participating in a Progress debate on the future of capital — the first hustings in all but name. Why participate in a debate when you can have the stage to yourself?
  • In September 2014, no sooner than the first Labour politician had formally declared their intention to stand (David Lammy) realising that he had little alternative given the extent of media interest and polling, than Sadiq reprimanded him and others who dared to talk about the Mayoralty: “this is not a time for formal decision or declaration….Labour in London must not be distracted from the crucial task of representing Londoners and winning in those marginal seats which will contribute to a Labour victory next year.
  • Three weeks later, just before Labour’s conference, he nevertheless did a long interview with the Guardian’s London correspondent, clearly designed to promote his candidature for the London mayoralty.
  • At the London Labour conference on 30 November, he again refused to participate in a plenary session with other would be mayoral candidates which was replaced at the last minute with possibly the most boring plenary I have attended although Sadiq occupied 45 minutes speaking from the platform himself as London’s shadow minister, effectively promoting himself for the job.
  • In the London Standard before Christmas, Sadiq reprimanded his colleagues jostling to become the next Mayor instead of uniting to win the General Election, saying they should “look themselves in the eye” and ask if they were doing enough for the party’s general election campaign.
  • On 6 January, Sadiq delivered yet another one: “Until the general election’s done and dusted, all our energies have to be focused on it. London is best served by a Labour government; anybody who’s distracted by campaigning, by doing anything for themselves as an individual is letting down London. Not letting down the Labour Party, not just letting down themselves, letting down London.”

And yet his visits to CLPs, to see Union representatives in London and other stakeholders continue – all designed to promote his own candidacy, some explicitl, others safely under the cover of organising London’s election campaign. In some cases, party staff – who may indeed be expected this close to the election not to be distracted from their most important task – are nevertheless engaged in organising events that appear more designed to serve Sadiq’s more personal objective, such as the reception at party HQ on 3 February for 30 groups of “Friends of…” various BAME communities.

It would be unrealistic not to expect all politicians to use their experience and activity to promote themselves. What causes concern here is the extent to which advantage is being taken whilst also seeking to reprimand or disadvantage others, all with the full assistance of the party machine. Allowing this is happen does not seem like the action of a party leadership that is “impeccably neutral” in the London mayoral race.

4 Comments

  1. Rod says:

    “he wrote to Blair (then still PM) criticising the Iraq war and UK Middle East policy”

    But his objections were not strong enough to prevent him from serving as a Labour MP with Blair as PM.

    Sadly, Khan is another Labour careerist who will readily play the ‘I’m principled’ card only when it improves his career prospects.

    1. Robert says:

      Correct sadly these days if any politician says they came into politics to help people , then sadly they are not MP’s but will be suffering from mental health issues on the other hand my MP said that she said I came into politics to help the weak the poor and the unemployed.

      If an MP says I came into it to make a pile that person is worth voting for they tell it as it is.

  2. swatantra says:

    Sadiq should do a ‘Murphy’ and resign from the ShadCab and focus solely on London. London is up for grabs in 2016 because the Tories are rummaging in the bin to even put up a candidate. Sadiq is unliky to progress any further if he stays in Westminster.

    1. John reid says:

      He may resign after the election,if we lose, he’s been doing the rounds of constituencies in outer london Takking about local issues,
      Didnt he vote for 42 day detention, so he can’t be all bad,

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