No, it won't help Sadiq Khan to have an old Etonian opponent

Excitement about Labour's new London mayoral candidate's background in comparison to that of Zac Goldsmith is futile.


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Sadiq Khan has been voted Labour’s candidate for the London mayoral election. It is most likely he will be up against the Tory frontrunner Zac Goldsmith in the race to City Hall next year.

This has caused a flurry of excitement among leftwingers – and a whirlwind of briefing from triumphant advisers – about Khan, a Muslim immigrant bus driver’s son who grew up on a council estate, taking on a posh, white old Etonian millionaire. (Goldsmith, the Tory MP for Richmond Park, is part of a wealthy political dynasty, and was educated at everyone’s favourite academy of morbid fascination.)

The headline of the Guardian’s report about Khan’s win sings: “Labour selects bus driver’s son to take on millionaire old Etonian”.

Honestly, don’t they teach you anything at day school? The Eton-bashing class war thing just doesn’t work.

We know from experience.

Cameron’s circle of old Etonian advisers – labelled the “chumocracy” by the press – was condemned by Ed Miliband throughout the last parliament, but the public clearly didn’t care.

Labour launched toff-trashing attacks on the Conservative candidate Edward Timpson in the 2008 Crewe & Nantwich by-election, and lost it to the Tories. Their defeat was mainly due to such a misguided campaign, in which they chased Timpson around in top hats.

And although Zac Goldsmith is no Boris Johnson in terms of popularity, hasn’t London proved it doesn’t give a flying coattail about the education and upbringing of its mayor, having voted twice for the Latin-spouting Johnson?

As for the idea that Labour is full of progressives who are in love with the idea of London's diversity – forget it. The Guardian valiently attempts to put Khan's win down to his background, comparing his profile to that of Tessa Jowell, the frontrunner in the Labour race:

"Perhaps just as importantly, with the Tory candidate almost certain to be the millionaire old Etonian Zac Goldsmith, many Labour members will have felt that a Muslim bus driver’s son, bought up on a council estate, would have made a better contrast than a white former cabinet minister married to a wealthy lawyer."

But this statement ignores that Jowell was most popular among the membership until the final round of voting, and also that if Labour members really felt this way, Diane Abbott (a BME candidate from a working-class background) surely would've come higher. Plus, the party is about to vote for a middle-class, white man to become their leader. Not to mention that Sadiq Khan is also married to a wealthy lawyer.

Snarking and sneering about your opponent’s privilege is a waste of breath. You rarely see Tories doing the equivalent – equally, very little of Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign has relied upon such attacks (unlike Andy Burnham’s focus on the “Bullingdon boys”). What’s the lesson? Just say something positive about yourself instead.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.