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5 August 2015

Winning elections is all about telling stories. That’s why I’m backing Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan has the policies, the integrity and the story to win City Hall for Labour, says Oona King.

By Oona King

Once upon a time in Downing Street, when I worked for the Prime Minister, I was instructed to “seize the narrative.” I was on the hunt for a story – not just any story, but the story of our time. Because throughout human history, it is narrative that forms our cultural identity and values. As Labour learnt the hard way in 2010 and 2015, once you lose the narrative, you lose. Full stop.
So how do we win? The first step is the story. It’s most often the rich and powerful, or the victors, who get to tell their story. But every so often a surprising narrative comes along – told by a surprising politician – that powers greater change. In terms of London’s story, that politician is Sadiq Khan. I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first a quick story.
It’s about an illiterate black boy born in 1893 to parents who had been slaves. All he knew was servitude and brutality, yet for some reason he decided he was going to university. He ran away from home, got a degree in agronomy, became a successful businessman, and had seven sons. And the story he told them was that anything was possible. His eldest son became the first black man to run for President. It wasn’t the American Dream, because his son’s campaigns on racial desecration led to incarceration in a mental asylum, but still, you get the point: narrative can change reality. That illiterate farm-hand born in 1893 was my grandfather. His true story is what inspires my belief in change.
London today stands at a crossroads, and we desperately need change. Next May we will have a new Mayor who will either build on London’s unique diversity and economic success to create an inclusive city; or they will accelerate the inequality and poverty that stalks London’s unlucky children – the ones who never have a holiday or winter coat, a decent breakfast, a bedtime story, or any spark of inspiration in their life. Yet they live in one of the richest places on earth.
That’s why I’m backing Sadiq to be Mayor: he is driven to change this. His story gives him a unique perspective and, crucially, the precious power to inspire. His dad was a bus driver and he grew up on a council estate. He knows how hard it is to get from a council estate to the Cabinet table. That’s not to say that someone from an affluent middle class family, or someone who went to private school, doesn’t have to travel far or work hard to make it into the cabinet. Of course they do. It’s just that someone like Sadiq has to travel further, and work harder. Some journeys are simply not the same as others – which is why I can’t compare my journey to university, with my grandfather’s.
And Sadiq is not your usual politician. He was taking cases to the European Court of Human Rights before he even became an MP. Sadiq’s outstanding success at tackling injustice propelled him into Parliament. And imagine what an incredible story London would tell if we elected a Muslim Mayor. It would undermine a common Islamaphobic narrative, and connect with a younger Muslim generation we cannot afford to lose. And I’m particularly impressed that as a Muslim politician, time and again Sadiq goes out of his way to champion the interests of other communities – such as the Jewish community – illustrating his ability to connect across perceived divides.
The other big story of this mayoral election is that London’s growing ethnic minority communities have a bigger say than ever before about who moves into City Hall. And the process of selecting Labour’s candidate is a chance to involve more of London’s diverse communities. Signing up nurses, teachers, faith groups, community groups and campaigners is a great opportunity. From Harrow to Havering, from Croydon to Camberwell, we need a candidate out forging links with all of London’s voters.
Instead of frowning at attempts to widen the pool of people selecting our candidate, or smearing the integrity of London’s ethnic minority voters, we need to build a bigger tent. Yes, we must inhabit the centre ground. But never forget, it is the Labour movement’s job to shift that ground. To push it – through blood, sweat and tears – onto progressive territory. That’s what we did with the National Minimum Wage, the smoking ban, and childcare policy – to name a few. That’s what Sadiq will do, and that’s why I back him.
So I’m asking you to support Sadiq because of his skills and expertise, but also because of the story he brings, the story he’ll tell, and the inspiration he’ll spark. Next year I want to tell my children a new story: once upon a time London elected its first Muslim mayor. Why do I want them to hear this story? Because true stories and surprising narratives – like that of Sadiq, like that of my grandfather – inspire our ability to achieve radical change.

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