Support 100 years of independent journalism.

Zac Goldsmith is running a patronising and poisonous campaign

When he's not pretending to love Bollywood, he's blowing on the dog whistle, says Seema Malhotra. 

By seema malhotra

Here’s some movie recommendations for Zac Goldsmith:  Fan, Kapoor & Sons, Rocky Handsome. These are just a few of the current Indian blockbusters a “big fan” of Bollywood might have on the tip of his tongue. The Conservative candidate for Mayor of London thought he would impress voters of Indian heritage by talking of his love of Bollywood.  But he couldn’t name a single title.

This would be funny if it wasn’t typical of a Conservative election campaign which is both patronising and poisonous.

Diversity is one of the strengths of London as a world city. It helped us win the Olympics and deliver an event that was met with praise around the world. The economic benefits for the city of having communities with links with countries around the world are huge. Inward investment and tourism are among the obvious benefits.

Our history has seen us chose diversity and equality as the values we subscribe to as a nation. Sadiq was ahead of the game in calling for a One London Mayor who will unite our many communities, creating the conditions for shared prosperity and security for all our families and businesses.

Sadiq Khan is the candidate for all Londoners – with a hugely contrasting campaign Zac Goldsmith is sowing division and distrust between communities.

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

Take the leaflets sent to voters with Indian, Sri Lankan or Tamil sounding names claiming there is a threat to tax family jewellery. It’s a scare story that is deeply patronising. It suggests the target voters aren’t interested in the big issues facing this great city – the housing crisis, rocketing fares, air pollution and the problems facing small businesses.

Content from our partners
Transport is the core of levelling up
The forgotten crisis: How businesses can boost biodiversity
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery

Zac Goldsmith’s campaign has become becomes poisonous as well as patronising, because it effectively asks people to reject Sadiq Khan because he is a Muslim. Of course, the Conservatives don’t say it out right. Using smears and innuendoes it seeks to portray Sadiq as an extremist.  This goes way beyond the normal electoral struggle between two parties. It is divisive and dangerous. It is harming community relations and damaging London’s reputation in the rest of the world. Driving wedges between us is in no one’s long term interest.

Some Conservatives seek to defend the Goldsmith campaign by pointing to the row over anti-Semitism in the Labour Party. I accept that we in the Labour party do have a problem, and we know it is a problem in wider society also. But there is one big difference. In the Labour party, the leadership – Jeremy Corbyn and the whole of the Shadow Cabinet are committed to rooting out this evil, along with Islamophobia and other forms of hate crime we know are on the rise.

In the Tory party, by contrast, David Cameron is deeply involved in a campaign based on thinly disguised racism – an appeal to people to vote on along ethnic lines.

The low point in the Tory campaign came in a Goldsmith article in the Mail on Sunday seeking to link Sadiq Khan to the 7/7 terrorist bombings which was illustrated with a picture of the wreckage of bus from that awful day.

There are many decent Tories disgusted that their party is sinking so low. Former Tory chair Baroness Sayeeda Warsi condemned the the article, saying it was “not the Zac Goldsmith I know.” She asked: “Are we Conservatives fighting to destroy Zac or fighting to win this election.

The celebrated Conservative journalist Peter Oborne said “Goldsmith’s campaign for mayor has become “the most repulsive I have ever seen as a political reporter”. 

He said the claims that Sadiq Khan is an extremist are “absurd” In fact, he said “Khan is a mainstream Labour politician who has dedicated his career to advocating centrist views…He is a strong opponent of anti-Semitism. He has campaigned constantly against reactionary and so-called “extremist” forces within the Muslim communities.

Shazia Awan was a Tory candidate in the General Election. She is alarmed at what she sees as attempts to “create a wedge and vitriolic rhetoric between Sikhs, Hindus and Muslims.” She sees Zac Goldsmith as a man “too weak to stand up to those directing his campaign, and as a result ruining his own reputation and credibility in the fickle pursuit of power.”

Sadiq Khan has been dignified and reasonable in the face of this Tory poison. He is by nature a unifier, fighting for human rights and strong communities and against extremism.

I believe he has been winning the arguments on the issues that matter to Londoners and that is reflected in the opinion polls and the bookmakers’ odds. We have learned to distrust opinion polls but it is clear that Zac Goldsmith believes he is losing and losing badly.

But he should remember this: There is one thing worse than losing. It is losing with dishonour.