by Sophie Taylor
2016 was a wild year for politics and London. Across the world, the political spectrum seemed to be continually narrowing, so that political choices seemed to be ‘right’ or ‘far-right’, with so-called ‘liberal lefties’ being somewhat left (if you’ll pardon the pun) behind. 2016 was the year of Brexit and Theresa May on one side of the pond, the year of Donald Trump on the other, and countless others across Europe and beyond.
Yet in London, the future seems different. Yes, there is Theresa May prowling No. 10 and harping on about a “hard Brexit” and that “Brexit means Brexit” (though none of us really know what either of these statements mean), but in May 2016 London elected, for the first time in 8 years, a Labour Mayor.
Now, let’s be clear. The Mayor of London office which Sadiq Khan currently holds is not the one with all the fancy robes and hats and pretty-things which are actually for the man who is the Lord Mayor of the City of London whose role is purely ceremonial, not constitutional. If these roles had been combined, then perhaps the Boris Johnson years would have been even more comedic than they already were.
Labour’s victory in the Mayoral election actually came as a rather large shock, not necessarily because of the extent of his victory, but because everyone saw him as the underdog and because of the labour wipeout in Scotland. Boris Johnson, the previous mayor, had been a very popular, humorous, Conservative representative who gave the capital Boris Bikes, rising employment, falling crime, and an Olympics we will never forget. So how, then, did it go so wrong for the Conservatives and so right for Labour?
In all honesty, Sadiq Khan did not win this election purely because London was terrified of a right-swinging world.
In May, the polls were pretty much neck and neck for Brexit with the Remain side slightly in the lead; Donald Trump was still just a gimmick who could never reach the White House. Instead, they won because the alternative, Conservative Zac Goldsmith, was a duff. At the heart of his campaign was racism and hatred, accusing Sadiq Khan of “providing cover to extremists”, using similar techniques a certain Donald Trump would go on to use by trying to rouse feelings of fear and resentment between the peoples of London. The only problem:these tensions were not prevalent enough to swing the election.
Instead, London was presented with a man like them, the son of a bus driver, who went to a comprehensive state school, and was in fact the face of the multi-cultural centre London has become in the last half a century. Zac Goldsmith, the typical posh, Eton-schooled Tory was no longer someone the people of London could relate to and see themselves in. Boris Johnson’s buffoonery, had narrowed the rift between posh, serious politician, and a man just like you and I.
So Sadiq Khan came to office. Like all politicians he has already faced problems implementing a number of his election promises, but is doing the very best he can. Control of London’s transport is one of the most important roles the Mayor of London faces in his time in office. In good news, the night tube, an idea first envisioned by Johnson, is finally in place on weekends thanks to the hard-graft and bargaining of the new Mayor. Yet he has failed to meet his promise regarding the tube and strikes, with the RMT union walking out a number of times since he has been in office. In other areas, he has opened a number of homeless shelters this winter as temperatures plummeted in the capital, a sure sign of hope in a country where, only a few months ago, reports were made of spikes being put down to stop rough-sleepers from sleeping in certain places. He has fought back against the complex and befuddling path the government has been following on Brexit and making plans to protect London from the worst of the effects of leaving the EU.
Sadiq Khan may not be the perfect politician, but in our world one of those has never existed and never will.
What Sadiq Khan is instead, is the voice of the oppressed, of the minority, the voice of the youth. The Mayor of London has little widespread power, but his mere existence as a left-wing politician in a position of power is enough to bring hope in this ever hating world.
Sophie Taylor is a student from London, hoping to major in Modern History at the University of St. Andrews.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer. The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.