London held its election. Sadiq Khan has been the city’s new mayor since May 9, 2016. He is a Muslim and the son of an immigrant from Pakistan, who earned his money driving buses in the streets of London. Together with seven siblings, Sadiq Khan grew up in public housing in London, where he visited a state school and studied.
There are four reasons why Sadiq Khan’s victory is a good omen for the referendum on the British EU membership on June 23.
First, from the very beginning, London’s new mayor has clearly advocated that London and Great Britain should stay a part of the European Union.
By doing so, he significantly set himself apart from his only real opponent, Zac Goldsmith from the Conservative Party. The latter is not just any British heir to a fortune running into the millions; he is the son of the founder and donor of the British Referendum Party, the precursor to UKIP. So, of course, he advocates that the British should leave the Union. Therefore, the Londoners knew very well what both candidates stand for. Staying a member of the European Union is of paramount strategic and economic importance for London. A Brexit would probably hit London especially hard. This makes it all the more absurd that the former mayor, Boris Johnson, advocates that London and Great Britain should leave the Union. Have you ever seen a – now former – mayor of a global metropolis like London position himself against the interests of his own city in such a manner?
Second, the electoral victory of a Muslim from a so-called ordinary background sends out an important massage to the entire world. It says: You can make it!
You can make it even in a Europe that is Christian to the very core! You can climb the social ladder and achieve top political positions in the European Union. Even if you are Muslim. Even if you are the son of an immigrant from Pakistan. Even if you are the son of a bus driver. All that matters is a decent character, the willingness to learn and assiduous effort. Of course, top political positions also require the ability to lead and a certain kind of intelligence. But the message is that there is no discrimination on the grounds of a person’s belief or social background. In times of Islamist terrorism, this is an extremely important signal to all Muslim immigrants in Europe – including those in the banlieues of Paris and in the most remote corners of Brussels-Molenbeek. If you will, this is the European Dream. The election of Sadiq Khan to be the mayor of one of the greatest cities in the world is a symbol that is nearly just as powerful as the election of a black president of the United States or a pope from Latin America.
Third, this election clearly represents European values.
Ever since Europe experienced enlightenment, tolerance has been a core value for many Europeans. Just think about the Letter Concerning Toleration which John Locke wrote when he was in exile in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 1685. Today, nobody has to flee to exile from England or from the European Union due to their religious beliefs or political opinions. After a dreadful 20th century, tolerance has become one of the fundamental values of today’s European Union and its 500 million citizens. Today, everybody may aspire to political top positions in the European Union, irrespective of their personal faith. This is a great achievement. All the more so because Sadiq Khan’s opponent, Zac Goldsmith, engaged in a smear campaign in the end. He even used – or rather ill-used – pictures of the 7 July 2005 London Bombings committed by Islamist terrorists for his own political ambitions. He got what he deserved: A disgraceful defeat.
Fourth, Sadiq Khan’s victory also sends out the message of social justice and solidarity, core values of British Labour and core values of the European Union as well.
His manifesto of keeping rents at a level which is affordable for all Londoners and cap the price increase in public transport, stands for a programme of social justice. It is the rejection of a London ruled by people who inherited millions, marked by price increases due to oligarchs and shady international investors. It is the rejection of a London which has the City of London at its heart and is like one of the big spiders sitting in the web of global tax havens. It is a rejection of a world that is drifting more and more apart because of global inequality. It is the message of a London that is more attractive and socially just for all Londoners.
But careful! London represents some parts of England just as little as New York represents the Mid West. The referendum on June 23 will not take place for another five weeks. But still, by choosing their new mayor, the Londoners have lit a beacon of open-mindedness and tolerance in their city. Those who know London know how much this mirrors this fantastic city. Now, what matters is that the British recognize this value and follow the example set by the Londoners by voting in favour of their country staying a member of the European Union on June 23. If the British vote to remain, this will strengthen all citizens of the European Union. A Brexit, however, would be bad for Britain, bad for Europe and bad for the West.
P.S. You can follow me on Twitter at OliHSchmidt.Oliver H. Schmidt