Sadiq Khan hits out at Labour London mayoral "beauty parade"

The shadow London minister tells the New Statesman: "I’ve got no interest in being involved in a beauty parade" and accuses Labour's mayoral hopefuls of "playing ego politics."

Although there are no officially declared candidates (with the exception of transport expert Christian Wolmar), it often feels as if the race to be Labour's next London mayoral nominee has already begun. David Lammy, Tessa Jowell,  Andrew Adonis and Diane Abbott are all positioning themselves to stand, with a regular stream of op-eds and other interventions.

In an interview with me in tomorrow's NS, Sadiq Khan, who was appointed shadow minister for London in January, hits out at what he calls "a beauty parade" and accuses his Labour colleagues of "playing ego politics". When I asked Khan why he withdrew from a recent Progress debate on the future of capital, which featured Lammy, Jowell, Adonis and Abbott (the first hustings in all but name), he told me:

I was told it was going to be a forum to discuss ideas about London and it was quite clear to me that it was actually turned into a beauty parade. I’ve got no interest in being involved in a beauty parade, or playing ego politics. It’s about me making sure that I do the job I’ve been given as shadow minister for London with the seriousness it deserves. I’m a member of team Labour. My obsession is to make sure we do the best we can in the elections in May 2014.

As shadow minister for London, Khan enjoys the advantage of being able to prepare the ground for a future mayoral bid without being accused of "ego politics". When I pointed out that he was viewed as one of the frontrunners for the post, he notably refused to rule out a bid: "If others want to flatter me and throw me those compliments, I’m not going to reject them, but my focus is definitely on the jobs I’ve asked been by Ed Miliband to do."

Defends the mansion tax against Lammy, Jowell and Abbott

Khan also criticised Lammy, Jowell and Abbott after they denounced Labour's proposed mansion tax as a "tax on London" (at the Progress event) and warned that it would penalise the asset rich but cash poor. He said:

All I say to colleagues, in the kindest, politest way is, 'actually, you look at the bigger picture. Are you in favour of trying to help those who own the least by giving them a new rate of tax at 10p? If you are, then ask yourself how you go about doing that.' What I’d rather do is work collegiately with senior members of the Labour Party to find a policy that works, rather than going for the cheap soundbite, which doesn’t really address the issue of making sure that we’ve got a fair tax policy.

On Boris Johnson's Thatcher lecture: "simplistic snobbery"

In response to Boris Johnson's recent Margaret Thatcher lecture, in which he argued, "Whatever you may think of the value of IQ tests, it is surely relevant to a conversation about equality that as many as 16 per cent of our species have an IQ below 85, while about 2 per cent have an IQ above 130", Khan said:

"I took the trouble of reading the speech, as well as the soundbites, and it was a frankly offensive and ill-thought through speech for the mayor of London to deliver. For a candidate to be the next Conservative Party leader, I can see why a speech talking about the importance of having more grammar schools and rewarding the top 10% can be seen as an attractive speech. But actually, in a city where you’ve got cleaners, bus drivers, hospital porters, working incredibly hard, to make a speech talking about how the lowest 16% should basically just accept it, take it or leave it, and how those top 10% should be given automatic knighthoods, showed a lack of understanding about this city."

He added:

"Let me pose this challenge; if Barack Obama’s IQ was tested at age five, 11, 16 or 18, I doubt whether it would have been very high, he wasn’t necessarily a brilliant student, but he worked hard, he had aspiration, he reached for the top and he’s now president of the United States of America. Or if Nelson Mandela’s IQ had been tested three, five, seven, eight, 12...that sort of simplistic snobbery is not what we want the mayor of this great city to be talking about.

"What he should be saying is every child deserves to fulfil their potential, every school should be a good school, we want to make sure that everyone shares in the joys of London, whether it’s the arts, the culture, the theatre, the academics, every son or daughter of a bus driver, a cleaner, a hospital worker should recognise that the reason why your mum and dad people are doing those jobs is not because they’re not bright but because they’re very important jobs that need to be done in London.

"Give them pride in the work they’re doing. We are a London where we should be one city recognising that, to win the Olympics, the work of the construction worker was just as important as the work of Sebastian Coe."

Pick up tomorrow's New Statesman to read the interview in full. You can also listen to George discussing this interview with Sadiq Khan on the NS podcast:

Shadow justice secretary Sadiq Khan speaks at the Labour conference in Brighton earlier this year. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Everyone's forgotten the one issue that united the Labour party

There was a time when Ed Miliband spoke at Momentum rallies.

To label the row over the EU at Thursday’s Labour leadership hustings "fireworks" would be to endow it with more beauty than it deserves. Owen Smith’s dogged condemnation of John McDonnell’s absence from a Remain rally – only for Corbyn to point out that his absence was for medical reasons – ought to go down as a cringing new low point in the campaign. 

Not so long ago, we were all friends. In the course of the EU referendum, almost all of the protagonists in the current debacle spoke alongside each other and praised one another’s efforts. At a local level, party activists of all stripes joined forces. Two days before polling day, Momentum activists helped organise an impromptu rally. Ed Miliband was the headline speaker, and was cheered on. 

If you take the simple version of the debate, Labour’s schism on the EU appears as an aberration of the usual dynamics of left and right in the party. Labour's left is supposedly cheering a position which avoids advocating what it believes in (Remain), because it would lose votes. Meanwhile, the right claims to be dying in a ditch for its principles - no matter what the consequences for Labour’s support in Leave-voting heartlands.

Smith wants to oppose Brexit, even after the vote, on the basis of using every available procedural mechanism. He would whip MPs against the invocation of Article 50, refuse to implement it in government, and run on a manifesto of staying in the EU. For the die-hard Europhiles on the left – and I count myself among these, having run the Another Europe is Possible campaign during the referendum – there ought to be no contest as to who to support. On a result that is so damaging to people’s lives and so rooted in prejudice, how could we ever accept that there is such a thing as a "final word"? 

And yet, on the basic principles that lie behind a progressive version of EU membership, such as freedom of movement, Smith seems to contradict himself. Right at the outset of the Labour leadership, Smith took to Newsnight to express his view – typical of many politicians moulded in the era of New Labour – that Labour needed to “listen” to the views Leave voters by simply adopting them, regardless of whether or not they were right. There were, he said, “too many” immigrants in some parts of the country. 

Unlike Smith, Corbyn has not made his post-Brexit policy a headline feature of the campaign, and it is less widely understood. But it is clear, via the five "red lines" outlined by John McDonnell at the end of June:

  1. full access to the single market
  2. membership of the European investment bank
  3. access to trading rights for financial services sector
  4. full residency rights for all EU nationals in the UK and all UK nationals in the EU, and
  5. the enshrinement of EU protections for workers. 

Without these five conditions being met, Labour would presumably not support the invocation of Article 50. So if, as seems likely, a Conservative government would never meet these five conditions, would there be any real difference in how a Corbyn leadership would handle the situation? 

The fight over the legacy of the referendum is theatrical at times. The mutual mistrust last week played out on the stage in front of a mass televised audience. Some Corbyn supporters jeered Smith as he made the case for another referendum. Smith accused Corbyn of not even voting for Remain, and wouldn’t let it go. But, deep down, the division is really about a difference of emphasis. 

It speaks to a deeper truth about the future of Britain in Europe. During the referendum, the establishment case for Remain floundered because it refused to make the case that unemployment and declining public services were the result of austerity, not immigrants. Being spearheaded by Conservatives, it couldn’t. It fell to the left to offer the ideological counter attack that was needed – and we failed to reach enough people. 

As a result, what we got was a popular mandate for petty racism and a potentially long-term shift to the right in British politics, endangering a whole raft of workplace and legal protections along the way. Now that it has happened, anyone who really hopes to overcome either Brexit, or the meaning of Brexit, has to address the core attitudes and debates at their root. Then as now, it is only clear left-wing ideas – free from any attempt to triangulate towards anti-migrant sentiment– that can have any hope of success. 

The real dividing lines in Labour are not about the EU. If they were, the Eurosceptic Frank Field would not be backing Smith. For all that it may be convenient to deny it, Europe was once, briefly, the issue that united the Labour Party. One day, the issues at stake in the referendum may do so again – but only if Labour consolidates itself around a strategy for convincing people of ideas, rather than simply reaching for procedural levers.