Sadiq Khan on the campaign trail in Battersea. Photo: Getty Images
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Why we're backing Sadiq Khan to win for London

Margaret Hodge and Oona King explain why they're backing Sadiq Khan for Labour's mayoral nomination

In order to change our country for the better, Labour needs to win elections. That applies to every election we fight – whether for local government seats, devolved Parliaments, city Mayors or general elections. The first opportunity we have to show that we have learnt the lessons of the past five years is next May, in elections to Scottish parliament, the Welsh Assembly and of course for London Mayor. We firmly believe that the candidate best placed to win in London for Labour is Sadiq Khan.

London is changing. Our city is becoming younger and more diverse. Nearly half of all Londoners are now minority ethnic and the average age of Londoners is 34. If we are to win over these voters, we need to hand over to the next generation. We need a candidate who can win over all Londoners – regardless of age, income or ethnicity. Just this week Sadiq showed his intentions to win over voters who have left Labour, reaching out to Jewish voters in London, who abandoned us in 2012 and 2015.

And he understands that insecurity is something that reaches right up the income scale: middle class professionals worry not only about jobs, housing and school places, but the cost of childcare and transport, and the safety of the city where so many raise their children.

Sadiq is the only candidate for Labour’s nomination who has fought and won a marginal seat. Winning tough seats like Tooting requires candidates to reach out and win support from people not naturally inclined to vote Labour. Tooting is a microcosm of London – with some areas of urban poverty with a large ethnic minority population, but much of the constituency is leafy, suburban and affluent. Sadiq has now won Tooting three times, including in 2010 when he was the top Tory target seat in London and faced a flood of activists money. We need a candidate for Mayor who knows what it takes to win.

Sadiq is the only candidate who has run a successful London-wide campaign.  He led the 2014 Borough and European election campaign in the capital, where Labour achieved our best results in a generation. We won control of an additional five Boroughs, mostly in outer London, in places like Croydon, Redbridge and Harrow. And we won half of London’s eight MEPs for the first time ever. 

Sadiq also led Labour’s general election campaign in London. London was the only region of the UK in which Labour made a net gain of seats. We held all 38 Labour seats and made seven additional gains, winning back seats lost in 1983, 2003, 2005 and 2010. We won 44% of the vote – our best result since 2001. And all this against a backdrop of failure and losses across the rest of the UK. The campaign even won plaudits from Tories and LibDems.

That’s why we’re backing Sadiq for Mayor. Because he is the candidate best placed to win the Mayoralty for Labour and take the first step on the long road back to power.
 

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Wrists, knees, terrible rages – I felt overwhelmed when Barry came to see me

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state.

To begin with, it seemed that Barry’s wrists were the problem. He told me about the pain he was experiencing, the pins and needles that came and went in his hands. I started to examine him. His palms were calloused, his fingers thick and stubby, veterans of the heavy work he’d undertaken throughout his 57 years. Even as I assessed this first problem, he mentioned his knees. I moved on to look at those. Then it was his back. I couldn’t get to grips with one thing before he veered to the next.

I teach my registrars to be aware how a consultation is making them feel: that can give valuable clues to the patient’s own emotional state. Barry was making me feel overwhelmed, the more so as I learned that he’d been experiencing all these problems for years.

“Why are you coming to see me about them now,” I asked, “rather than six months ago – or in six months’ time?”

“I need some time off, doc.”

There was something about the way he wouldn’t meet my gaze. And again, that feeling of being overwhelmed.

“What’s going on at work?” I asked him.

His tone hardened as he told me how he’d lost his temper a couple of days earlier. How one of the others had been winding him up, and something inside him had snapped, and he’d taken a swing at his workmate and landed a punch.

Barry had walked out and hadn’t been back. I tried to find out if he’d heard from his boss about the incident, if he knew what was likely to happen next.

He told me he didn’t care.

We talked some more. I learned that he’d been uncharacteristically short-tempered for months; his partner was fed up with being shouted at. Sleep had gone to pot, and Barry had taken to drinking heavily to knock himself out at night. He was smoking twice his usual amount. Men like Barry often don’t experience depression as classic low mood and tearfulness; they become filled with rage and turn in on themselves, repelling those closest to them in the process.

Depression is a complex condition, with roots that can frequently be traced right back to childhood experiences, but bouts are often precipitated by problems with relationships, work, money, or health. In Barry’s case, the main factor turned out to be his job. He’d been an HGV driver but at the start of the year his company had lost its operator’s licence. To keep the business afloat, his boss had diversified. Barry hated what he now had to do. He was now a “catcher”.

I didn’t know what that meant. Getting up at the crack of dawn, he told me, driving to some factory farm somewhere, entering huge sheds and spending hours catching chickens, thousands upon thousands of them, shoving them into crates, stashing the crates on a lorry, working under relentless pressure to get the sheds cleared and the birds off to the next stage of the food production chain.

“It’s a young man’s game,” he told me. “It’s crippling me, all that bending and catching.”

It wasn’t really his joints, though. Men like Barry can find it hard to talk about difficult emotion, but it was there in his eyes. I had a sudden understanding: Barry, capturing bird after panicking bird, stuffing them into the transport containers, the air full of alarmed clucking and dislodged feathers. Hour after hour of it. It was traumatising him, but he couldn’t admit anything so poncey.

“I just want to get back to driving.”

That would mean landing a new job, and he doubted he would be able to do so, not at his age. He couldn’t take just any old work, either: he had to earn a decent wage to keep up with a still sizeable mortgage.

We talked about how antidepressants might improve his symptoms, and made a plan to tackle the alcohol. I signed him off to give him some respite and a chance to look for new work – the one thing that was going to resolve his depression. But in the meantime, he felt as trapped as the chickens that he cornered, day after soul-destroying day.

Phil Whitaker’s novel “Sister Sebastian’s Library” will be published by Salt in September

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The English Revolt