The Evening Standard has more to lose from taking on Sadiq Khan than the Mayor does

The paper's claim that the Mayor has failed to act over Labour anti-Semitism isn't credible and will alienate readers. 

NS

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Is there an election going on? The Evening Standard has launched a remarkable attack on Sadiq Khan in its leader column today, castigating London’s Mayor for his failure to speak out on anti-Semitism within the Labour party.

It’s particularly striking because viewers of BBC Breakfast will have, just yesterday, heard the Mayor condemn Labour’s inaction on the issue and call for the party to do what City Hall has already done and implement the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of anti-Semitism in full. Nor it is the first time that Khan has stuck his neck out on the issue, both as Mayor of London and as Labour’s candidate.

You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to read the editorial, note that the Conservative Party is currently selecting a candidate to challenge Khan in 2020, remember the politics of the Standard and its current editor (George Osborne), and conclude that the editorial has been driven by opposition to Khan’s wider political programme, rather than his actions over the issue of Labour anti-Semitism.

The attack strikes at the core of one of Khan’s biggest political assets: his role as an ambassador for the city and its values. Outside of that, the Mayor has very few big-ticket items he can claim to have delivered since entering City Hall, beyond the Hopper fare, which is a significant saving for Londoners who commute via pay-as-you-go on the buses, but the majority of those people are firmly in the Labour column anyway. The city is still building too few houses, pedestrianisation of the capital’s centre has stalled, and London has not been immune to the countrywide increase in the crime rate.

So will the Standard’s change of gear hurt Khan? I doubt it, to be honest. It’s worth noting that the news editors of the Jewish News and Jewish Chronicle, the two community papers that serve the capital, have already criticised the editorial. While talk of Khan having done significantly better than Jeremy Corbyn in London is generally overstated, the Jewish community is one area where the Mayor performed considerably better than the Labour leader.

And while the Standard going free was a masterstroke as far as the long-term viability of the paper was concerned, the concomitant loss of the billboards that once dotted the capital means that even a virulently anti-Khan message is not going to be seen by anywhere near as many people. After all, the Standard boosted Zac Goldsmith’s dog whistle campaign against Khan last time, and he still won comfortably.

If someone does come off the worse from the clash, it may well be the Standard. The paper is now consistently anti-Theresa May, anti-Boris Johnson and anti-Brexit, which is at a remove from the politics of much of suburban London. It is anti-Jeremy Corbyn which puts it at odds with much pro-Remain and social liberal opinion in the inner city. Now it is anti-Sadiq Khan, a rare politician who has managed to straddle those divides well in London, and who the title's politics should surely be aligned with, if its editorial column is to be anything other than the airing of grudges. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman, the EI Political Commentator of the Year, and the PSA's Journalist of the Year. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.