Two candidates representing Britain’s diversity are vying for mayor of London

Posted in: 04/05/2021 – 13:42Last updated: 04/05/2021 – 13:40

London (AFP)

One of them is of Pakistani origin and the other is of Jamaica. The two main candidates for the post of mayor of London are a symbol of diversity and an exception on the political map in Britain, which is in the height of a period of reflection on the subject of racism.

Laborer Sadiq Khan, 50, the candidate for a new term during the municipal elections scheduled for Thursday, is considered the most likely to win against his conservative rival, who is a year younger than Sean Bailey, who, like him, grew up in a modest family in the capital of nine million people.

The elections, postponed due to the epidemic, will also allow about 48 million voters in England to renew about five thousand of their representatives in 143 local councils and for Scots to elect a new local parliament, in a decisive vote against the backdrop of aspirations for independence.

This competition is exceptional when the majority of the leading candidates are white, but it is due to the cosmopolitan character of the city, where only 45% of its residents say they are “white British” according to a 2011 census.

And it comes at a time when the “Black Lives Matters” movement has revived the debate about racism and colonialism in a country where politics often remains the preserve of elite graduates of Cambridge and Oxford universities.

Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani bus driver who became the first Muslim mayor in a major western capital city, succeeding Boris Johnson, told AFP, “In 2016, the city chose me as mayor, to show its progress.”

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For his part, Sean Bailey dreams of becoming “the first black mayor of London”, a position with a strong presence at the national level, and “the first black politician of this stature in Europe,” saying to AFP: “It is important for people to feel that they are represented.”

– Argument –

In 2016, Sadiq Khan defeated wealthy candidate Zach Goldsmith, a descendant of Britain’s elite, whose campaign, which contained anti-Islamic hints, had not convinced voters.

“So it is not surprising that the conservatives decided to choose a candidate from an ethnic minority” to present themselves as “an inclusive liberal party,” said Stephen Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

But Shawn Bailey is not far from controversy, as he faces criticism for statements he made years ago that questioned certain aspects of multiculturalism or considered reactionary about women.

But regardless of the candidates’ origins and party divisions, their “personality” plays a role as well, political expert Simon Sherwood of the University of Surrey told AFP, referring to Boris Johnson’s case.

“I have a unique experience thanks to my career, but it’s not the only thing I can offer,” says Sean Bailey.

This former social worker, raised by his mother, was a special advisor to former Prime Minister David Cameron and wants to give London a “new start” with more jobs and housing.

He also promised to tighten security in the face of the scourge of stabbing crimes that Sadiq Khan is accused of having failed to eliminate.

– ‘On the roof’ progress –

For experts, the situation in London bears witness to the progress made in recent years in the field of political pluralism, although the margin for improvement is still large.

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Many conservative ministers are descended from ethnic minorities, such as the interior or finance ministers.

The question arises, however, to find out “how sincere it is,” as Stephen Fielding asserts, as the Labor and Conservative parties still count as a large majority of whites and struggle to settle issues of racism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in their ranks. Fielding expresses his opinion privately on social media.

Depesh Anand, head of the Department of Social Sciences at the University of Westminster, believes that this progress remains “on the surface” only because political discourse remains largely directed towards whites in Britain, with the government taking a hard-line nationalist stance.

Thus, despite a self-examination on racism issues, the government endorsed a controversial report refuting the institutionalized racism of the country and defending national heroes such as Winston Churchill who had been questioned in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement, says Anand.

Experts say change will come through education, mobilizing civil society, or reforming the way candidates are nominated.

Sadiq Khan expresses “optimism” for the future because “there is a new generation of truly talented politicians coming from various circles who will accelerate the progress process.”

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