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The nightmare that's haunting Sadiq Khan - and cheering Zac Goldsmith

The memory of 2015 provides hope to Zac Goldsmith - and fear for Sadiq Khan. 

“Politicians,” the American diplomant John Bolton once observed, are “like generals – they tend to fight the last war.”

It’s the last war that is haunting many in Sadiq Khan’s campaign and giving hope to Zac Goldsmith’s team – that, just as the polls forecast a win for Ed Miliband but the voters delivered a majority for David Cameron, the polls putting Khan on course for a landslide victory will be proved wrong – and Goldsmith will be crowned mayor instead.

The campaign even follows a similar script – on the one hand, you have an OId Etonian, widely criticised for running a low-energy campaign, against a politician from Labour’s soft left. Just as the Conservatives use the fear of a Labour-SNP to hammer Labour and their own coalition partners, Goldsmith is now using Khan’s decision to nominate Jeremy Corbyn and a series of politicians who Khan has shared a platform with to attack Labour’s mayoral candidate. And the drip-drip of hostile headlines from the Evening Standard may further eat into Khan’s vote share – yesterday, the paper splashed with Cameron’s warning that “Britain would pay the price” should Labour triumph in London.

Will it work? That, as with most second-order elections, turnout will be key, means that going into the final straight in possession of a double-digit lead is a double-edged sword  for Khan. His voters may be more likely to give it miss on polling day – however, Khan has – at least according to the polls – a big cushion.

Labour’s field organisers are worried about turnout but nothing to the extent of the jitters that spread through the party in the last days of the general election. Their fear largely comes out of a respect for their Conservative opponents. That instead of abandoning their attacks on Khan in the face of criticism from across the political spectrum, the Goldsmith campaign has doubled down only adds to the worry. As one puts it: “I don’t think that Zac Goldsmith is a racist. I don’t think he’s a fool. So I ask myself: why is he running a racist campaign? It must be because it’s working.”

On the Conservative side, though they reject the idea that their campaign is behaving in an untoward manner, they maintain a confidence that runs counter to public polls putting them on course for a crushing defeat.

So will it be 2015 over again? My sense is that it’s unlikely – the Conservative campaign that “the SNP are coming” had the advantage of being an undeniable truth – that if Ed Miliband had taken office, he would have done so on the backs of votes from SNP MPs, as at no point did the polls – or Labour’s ground game – indicate that he was aiming for a big enough victory in England to compensate for the losses of 41 seats in Scotland. And in Cameron, the Tories already had a politician with an existing brand. He was able to present himself as the solution to the “problem” of a Miliband-government propped up by the SNP.

However, the idea that Khan is “radical” or “extreme” simply doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.  He is firmly middle-of-the-road on most issues. Goldsmith, unlike Cameron, does not have a well-known pre-existing brand – even where he succeeds in whipping up fears around Khan, I’m not sure he’s established enough as a force to be the obvious “answer” to the problem of Khan.

And in mistaking attacking his opponent for building a majority for himself, it is not Cameron’s election campaign Goldsmith is emulating – but Miliband’s.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.

Photo: André Spicer
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“It’s scary to do it again”: the five-year-old fined £150 for running a lemonade stand

Enforcement officers penalised a child selling home-made lemonade in the street. Her father tells the full story. 

It was a lively Saturday afternoon in east London’s Mile End. Groups of people streamed through residential streets on their way to a music festival in the local park; booming bass could be heard from the surrounding houses.

One five-year-old girl who lived in the area had an idea. She had been to her school’s summer fête recently and looked longingly at the stalls. She loved the idea of setting up her own stall, and today was a good day for it.

“She eventually came round to the idea of selling lemonade,” her father André Spicer tells me. So he and his daughter went to their local shop to buy some lemons. They mixed a few jugs of lemonade, the girl made a fetching A4 sign with some lemons drawn on it – 50p for a small cup, £1 for a large – and they carried a table from home to the end of their road. 

“People suddenly started coming up and buying stuff, pretty quickly, and they were very happy,” Spicer recalls. “People looked overjoyed at this cute little girl on the side of the road – community feel and all that sort of stuff.”

But the heart-warming scene was soon interrupted. After about half an hour of what Spicer describes as “brisk” trade – his daughter’s recipe secret was some mint and a little bit of cucumber, for a “bit of a British touch” – four enforcement officers came striding up to the stand.

Three were in uniform, and one was in plain clothes. One uniformed officer turned the camera on his vest on, and began reciting a legal script at the weeping five-year-old.

“You’re trading without a licence, pursuant to x, y, z act and blah dah dah dah, really going through a script,” Spicer tells me, saying they showed no compassion for his daughter. “This is my job, I’m doing it and that’s it, basically.”

The girl burst into tears the moment they arrived.

“Officials have some degree of intimidation. I’m a grown adult, so I wasn’t super intimidated, but I was a bit shocked,” says Spicer. “But my daughter was intimidated. She started crying straight away.”

As they continued to recite their legalese, her father picked her up to try to comfort her – but that didn’t stop the officers giving her stall a £150 fine and handing them a penalty notice. “TRADING WITHOUT LICENCE,” it screamed.


Picture: André Spicer

“She was crying and repeating, ‘I’ve done a bad thing’,” says Spicer. “As we walked home, I had to try and convince her that it wasn’t her, it wasn’t her fault. It wasn’t her who had done something bad.”

She cried all the way home, and it wasn’t until she watched her favourite film, Brave, that she calmed down. It was then that Spicer suggested next time they would “do it all correctly”, get a permit, and set up another stand.

“No, I don’t want to, it’s a bit scary to do it again,” she replied. Her father hopes that “she’ll be able to get over it”, and that her enterprising spirit will return.

The Council has since apologised and cancelled the fine, and called on its officials to “show common sense and to use their powers sensibly”.

But Spicer felt “there’s a bigger principle here”, and wrote a piece for the Telegraph arguing that children in modern Britain are too restricted.

He would “absolutely” encourage his daughter to set up another stall, and “I’d encourage other people to go and do it as well. It’s a great way to spend a bit of time with the kids in the holidays, and they might learn something.”

A fitting reminder of the great life lesson: when life gives you a fixed penalty notice, make lemonade.

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.