A grudging vote for Labour in the London mayor elections

Anindya Bhattacharyya explains why to humiliate Zac Goldsmith in tomorrow’s London mayoral election, a grudging vote for Sadiq Khan is needed.


There are elections across Britain tomorrow – for the Scottish Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, various councils in England, among others. London will be voting for its mayor – with Labour candidate Sadiq Khan the favourite to win back City Hall after eight years of Tory rule under Boris Johnson.

The London mayor elections involves everyone getting two votes, a first preference and a second preference. In practice the second round is invariably a contest between Labour and the Conservatives, and in the past I’ve voted for a far left candidate as first preference with a “back-up” vote for Labour.

That’s what I was planning on doing this time round, but I suspect I’ll end up just voting for Khan as first preference and leaving it at that. My motivation isn’t so much love for Labour’s candidate as repulsion at the campaign run by his rival.

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has been shamelessly racist, consisting of little more than a series of insinuations that Khan is Muslim and therefore a terrorist sympathiser, or an extremist, or “dangerous for London” in some conveniently unspecified manner. One recent pro-Goldsmith puff piece in the Daily Mail was illustrated with a photo of a bombed out bus from 7 July 2005 – just in case you didn’t get the point.

This Islamophobic dreck is bad enough, but what has made Goldsmith’s campaign particularly sinister is the way he has attempted to whip up and exploit anti-Muslim sentiment among London’s Hindu and Sikh communities. Voters with Hindu surnames have received targeted letters from Goldsmith making bizarre allegations about Khan being after their family jewellery. The letters also boast of Goldsmith’s support for India’s prime minister Narendra Modi – a hardline Hindu supremacist and virulent Islamophobe who as chief minister of Gujarat presided over a murderous anti-Muslim pogrom in 2002.

Of course I’d want to see the Tories out of City Hall regardless of what sort of campaign they run. But Goldsmith’s behaviour has added a certain urgency to this. He needs to lose and lose badly. He needs to be humiliated – if only to send an unequivocal message to any other politician tempted to use these foul tactics.

Unfortunately Khan himself does not inspire much confidence. He has run a lacklustre and right-wing campaign, taking every opportunity to chuck bricks at Jeremy Corbyn – despite the Labour leader’s popularity in London. His response to Islamophobic smears has for the most part consisted of grovelling to prove how “moderate” he is. This kind of posture does nothing to placate the racists, of course, as Khan is now discovering. The truth is that no Muslim will ever be “moderate” enough for the likes of Johnson and Goldsmith.

So Khan gets my second preference vote at least. But is there any other candidate for mayor that socialists should consider voting for as a first preference? I fear not.

The Green candidate Sian Berry has run an insipid campaign, despite being from the left of the party. In particular the Greens have declined to call for a second preference vote for Labour, or even to condemn the Islamophobia of Goldsmiths campaign. Maybe they hope to pick up former Liberal Democrat votes through this kind of tactical positioning. If so, they’ve lost mine.

Elsewhere in the field there’s the Women’s Equality Party, which has a decent social manifesto but is firmly centrist and pro-business in other areas. George Galloway’s disgracefully sexist campaign against Naz Shah in Bradford last year rules him out of consideration. The One Love Party promises to roll out “maintenance drones” across London, an intriguing if, alas, somewhat underdeveloped political idea.

So it looks like I’ll be grudgingly voting Khan as first preference. For those that can’t stomach that, I’d recommend voting for him second. And for those who can’t even bring themselves to do that, well – I understand where you’re coming from although I disagree. There are tactical reasons for leftists to back Khan, but tactical arguments are by their nature never entirely convincing.

There is thankfully one left candidate I’ll be voting for without reservation. A group of housing activists standing under the banner Take Back The City are putting up a candidate for the London Assembly in the City & East constituency where I live. The obscene cost of housing in London is a crucial issue for those who live here and has sparked a series of radical campaigns across the capital recently. Take Back The City has put together its campaign on a shoestring budget, and I wish them success.


  1. Pleasing to see the vile Goldsmith defeated, even if I feel no enthusiasm for Khan. But the best results of the day are from Northern Ireland, notably Eamonn McCann’s victory. No mention of this on the SW website – are they still smarting from his speech at the 2013 Marxism rally??

  2. This is an excellent guide through what for many of us is a rather dreary, featureless non-event. It is also a good lesson in how to exercise a tactical vote in a ‘hold your nose without illusions’ way when there are no really credible left candidates. Also love the word ‘dreck’. I will definitely use it when I next see my daughters in order to convince them of their dad’s coolness.


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