We live in an increasingly intolerant era defined by the rise of Donald Trump and his ilk. Far-right parties are cropping up across Europe like an especially virulent rash. Much of popular sentiment towards refugees is inhumanly negative, as evidenced both in the press and in social media comments sections.
But happily, there is at least some cause for optimism. Today’s appointment of Sadiq Khan as the third Mayor of London is a prime case in point. Khan comes from humble beginnings. He is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver, born and raised on a council estate.
From that starting point, he became a lawyer, then an MP. Today, Khan reaches the significant heights of leading one of the world’s most influential cities and global powerhouses: London.
This is no small achievement, especially in light of the current zeitgeist both in the UK and beyond. Khan overcame a particularly nasty smear campaign from his main rival, Tory challenger Zac Goldsmith, to win the mayorship.
Goldsmith’s PR people orchestrated a campaign that associated Khan with extremism and support for terrorists. Luckily, Londoners weren’t fooled. At the polls, they lived up to their city’s global reputation for tolerance, progressiveness and inclusivity by voting Khan.
So what’s next for London? Although it makes for an impactful symbol, coming from a working-class Muslim background is of course not enough to make Khan an effective leader. What about his policies?
Well, they’re pretty much on point.
Khan empathised with the challenges facing ordinary Londoners when laying out his manifesto as Mayor. He pledged to tackle one of London’s most pressing concerns: spiralling housing prices. He’s going to build more housing, including social housing, while taking measures to improve the situation for London’s renters. He’ll rein in London’s landlords by regulating them through a city-wide licensing scheme and lettings agency.
In terms of the buyers market, new homes will be offered to Londoners first. London’s transport expenses, which rose to near-unaffordable levels under the previous mayor, are set to be frozen for the next four years. Khan has also promised to improve cycle lanes and make London better for walking.
These are two of Khan’s most significant policies, both of which will make everyday life easier for ordinary Londoners. For a change, there’s a leader who is not from the wealthy, Eton-educated, over-privileged class that seems to overrun our government presently. Instead there’s a politician who knows exactly what its like to struggle with ‘normal’ concerns.
In contrast, Tory competitor Goldsmith comes across as out of touch with ordinary Londoners, as he is from a background of wealth and privilege. People are fed up with this kind of thing. It’s about time that our country’s elected leaders were drawn from among those who have lived normal lives, faced normal problems and overcome them through sheer grit. The significance of Khan’s win is not just about Khan’s Muslim roots, but also his working-class origins.
London has lately developed another reputation alongside its existing one for tolerance and multiculturalism. It has become infamous for its intimidating costs of living, seen by outsiders as a place only for the wealthy. If Sadiq Khan’s policies are realised, that may begin to change.
With his pledge to ‘make London a fairer and more tolerant city’, having Khan as mayor is likely to repair some of the damage, improve London’s global image and make it a more appealing and accessible place to live, work, study and visit.