There was no mystery over Sadiq Khan’s resignation from the shadow cabinet earlier this week. The Tooting MP has long planned to stand for selection as Labour’s London mayoral candidate, whatever the outcome of the election. In an interview with me at the start of the year, he all but confirmed his intentions, declaring: “It’s a privilege just to be asked that question. I can’t tell you what a buzz it gives me as somebody born and raised here, son of immigrants, whose Dad was a bus driver, Mum was a seamstress, I’ve got eight siblings, living on a council estate … for you to ask me that question is so flattering – and it’s a job I’d love to do one day.”
Khan has now formally launched his bid, joining a field that numbers Tessa Jowell, David Lammy, Diane Abbott and transport expert Christian Wolmar. As the son of an immigrant bus driver, who grew up on a council estate, the former shadow justice secretary has the kind of backstory that all candidates now crave. Having served as shadow London minister, and led Labour’s campaign in the city, he can also take credit for the party’s impressive results in the 2014 local elections and its gains at the general election. His campaign will emphasise the opportunities he benefited from and how he fears they are being denied to those of a similar background today.
He said: “People will try and label me left-wing or being this or that. What I am is a Londoner. I’m also a Muslim, I’m also of Asian decent, of Pakistani heritage, I’m the son of a bus driver, I’m the son of immigrants. I’m from this council estate. I’m a husband, I’m a father, I’m many, many things. If people want to define me as left-wing or caring too much for the poor, caring too much about housing or being obsessed with everyone having their potential fulfilled, that’s fine.”
The challenge for Khan, however, as a close ally of Ed Miliband (he ran his 2010 leadership campaign), will be explaining why Labour performed so badly at the election and what has to change. He will need to run a strong campaign to defeat Jowell, the current frontrunner, who can trade on her Olympics role and who has embraced issues such as inequality.