19 February 2019
Sadiq Khan won the biggest individual mandate in British political history to become the first Muslim to head a major European capital. Photo: Reuters
Sadiq Khan won the biggest individual mandate in British political history to become the first Muslim to head a major European capital. Photo: Reuters

First Muslim London mayor sworn in amid outcry over Tory tactics

London has sworn in its first Muslim mayor after a contentious election campaign in which the ruling Conservatives linked him to extremism.

Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani immigrant driver and a seamstress, defeated Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, the son of a billionaire financier, by a record margin to secure the biggest individual mandate in British political history, Reuters reports. 

Khan is the first Muslim to head a major European capital.

The Financial Times said the result highlighted London’s tolerance, a “remarkable triumph over the racial and religious tensions that have bedevilled other European capitals”.

“My name is Sadiq Khan and I’m the mayor of London,” the 45-year-old said to wild applause at the ceremony at Southwark Cathedral attended by the city’s police chief, politicians and leaders of different faiths.

Khan’s election also puts a supporter of Britain remaining in the European Union at the helm of the global financial center, even though the issue barely came up in the campaign.

Goldsmith and outgoing mayor Boris Johnson favor a vote to leave when Britain holds a referendum on the issue next month.

Politicians from all sides lined up to condemn the Conservative Party tactics in the race, but in the aftermath, Defense Secretary Michael Fallon refused to apologise.

“In the rough and tumble of elections, you get stuff said, questions asked,” Fallon told the BBC.

“I think it is right that candidates for some of the most important offices in Britain do get scrutinised about their past associations.”

Conservatives including Prime Minister David Cameron and Fallon himself had questioned whether London would be safe under the control of Khan, a former human rights lawyer who grew up in public housing in the capital’s inner city.

“They used fear and innuendo to try to turn different ethnic and religious groups against each other — something straight out of the Donald Trump playbook,” Khan told the Observer newspaper.

Many commentators said the focus on religion had backfired in a city noted for its diversity.

During the race, Goldsmith had joined forces with Cameron and other senior party members to question Khan’s past appearances alongside radical Muslim speakers at public events, accusing him of giving “oxygen” to extremists.

During one heated session in parliament, Labor lawmakers accused Cameron of racism when he repeatedly raised the issue.

Khan said he had fought extremism all his life and regretted sharing a stage with speakers who held “abhorrent” views.

Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative Party chairman, said the campaign had damaged the party’s credibility on issues of race and religion, while Labor politicians called on Fallon and Cameron to stop smearing their candidate.

The left-wing mayors of New York and Paris saluted Khan, as did U.S. presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

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