One is of Pakistani origin and the other Jamaican, but the two main candidates for mayor of London in Thursday’s elections remain exceptions in the electoral landscape of a United Kingdom in full introspection on racism.
According to the polls, the Labor candidate to his succession, Sadiq Khan, 50, must prevail over his conservative opponent, Shaun Bailey, who, like Khan, grew up in a modest family in this capital of nine million people.
The local elections, postponed one year due to the pandemic, will also allow 48 million voters in England to renew some 5,000 seats in 143 municipal assemblies and the Scots to elect a new regional parliament, a crucial vote in a context of independence aspiration.
Attributed to the cosmopolitan character of London, where only 45% of inhabitants declare themselves “British white” according to the 2011 census, this confrontation remains exceptional in an election in which the majority of important candidates are white.
And it comes after the “Black Lives Matter” movement has reignited the debate on racism and colonialism in a country where politics remains the preserve of an elite formed at the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.
“In 2016, the city elected me as its mayor, showing how progressive it is,” Sadiq Khan, the son of a Pakistani bus driver, who then became the first Muslim mayor of a large Western capital, told AFP. to now Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Shaun Bailey dreams of becoming “the first black mayor of London”, a position of great national visibility, “and the first black politician of this stature in Europe”.
– Controversies –
In 2016, Khan defeated the wealthy conservative Zac Goldsmith, a pure product of the elite whose Islamophobic campaign did not convince.
“It is not surprising that conservatives have now decided to elect a candidate from an ethnic minority” to present themselves as a “liberal and inclusive party,” says Steven Fielding, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham.
However, Bailey is not without controversy and has been criticized for comments he made a few years ago questioning certain aspects of multiculturalism and considered retrograde on women.
But beyond the origin of the candidates and partisan divisions, their “personality” also plays a role, says political scientist Simon Usherwood of the University of Surrey.
Bailey agrees: “I have a unique experience thanks to my origins, but that is not the only thing I can contribute.”
The former social worker raised by his mother, who was a special adviser to former Prime Minister David Cameron, wants to give London “a fresh start” with more jobs and housing and greater security against the stab attacks that Khan is accused of. not having braked.
– “Shallow” advance –
For experts, the situation in London shows the progress made in recent years in terms of diversity in politics, although there is still much room for improvement.
Several conservative ministers belong to ethnic minorities, including key portfolios such as Interior and Finance.
But “how sincere is he?” Asks Fielding. The Labor and Conservative parties are still very white and have difficulties in dealing with racism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism within their ranks, which is expressed mainly on social media.
For Dibyesh Anand, a sociologist at the University of Westminster, this is “superficial” progress because the political discourse remains essentially oriented towards the white UK, with a very right-wing and nationalist stance of the government.
For example, despite the examination of conscience on racism, the executive endorsed a controversial report that refutes institutional racism in the country.
According to these experts, the change will come from the hand of education, the mobilization of civil society or a reform of the way in which candidates are appointed.
But Khan is “optimistic” about the future, because “there is a new generation of highly talented politicians from different backgrounds who will accelerate progress.”