The 5th of May has always been a significant date for Britain. Aside from marking the 195th anniversary of the passing of the United Kingdom’s most formidable foe (read: Napoleon), the 5th of May 2016 carried a new historical achievement for the British capital: the election of Sadiq Khan, candidate for the Labour party, as new Mayor of London, replacing former mayor Boris Johnson in office. Now, the news of a new mayor in London might not seem that revolutionary, however in this specific case there are quite a few things worthy of note. For example, that a Muslim became mayor of one of the main capitals of Europe in an age in which Islam is strongly stigmatized by the masses because of the rise of the Islamic State and of its associate terrorist organizations. While this is certainly a great victory for diversity, it sure wasn’t easy to accomplish.
The election of Sadiq Khan to office came in the middle of a period of crisis for the Labour party and Britain in general. The former is plagued by an inquiry led by the party’s leader, Jeremy Corbyn, for anti-Semitism, while the latter lives under the impending referendum that might lead the United Kingdom out of the European Union. Khan predictably took a firm stance against any form of racial and religious propaganda, as well as against the Brexit campaign, led by the incumbent mayor Boris Johnson. The electoral campaign saw Mr. Khan oppose Zac Goldsmith, candidate of the Conservative party in what was described by many as an “ugly” campaign. Highlight was an article, appeared on the conservative newspaper The Mail on Sunday, in which Goldsmith allegedly accused Khan of sympathizing for terrorists. The low blow didn’t seem to have much effect, though, or it even seemed to be counter productive for Goldsmith, causing many undecided voters to choose Khan. If anything, the political arena proved once more that populist rhetorics are often useless, without a valid political agenda. An agenda that, on the other hand, Mr. Khan has planned very thoroughly.
Born in London from a family of Pakistani immigrants escaped from the horrors of the Indian partition and raised in a common house with his brothers and sisters, Sadiq Khan has always had housing and human rights at heart. And indeed there is much to be done in the British capital in that regard: the City, which is also the world’s leading financial center, is home to approximately 8.6 million people; and yet, charity organization Trust for London estimates that as many as 27% of them live near poverty level. Khan finds statistics like these unacceptable, and is committed to make London ‘a fairer and more equal’ place, to use his own words. He plans to achieve this in three steps.
The first one involves stopping real estate developers from selling their housing projects off-plan (i. e. before they’re built). Real estate is a permanent store of value, which means rich investors usually decide to buy some properties at some point in time in order to secure part of their capital. In London, this translated in rocketing housing prices: the average house price is 534785 pounds, while rents are around 62% of the average income (according to Khan). Preventing real estates developers from bringing their projects to the market too soon will give Londoners an advantage over foreign buyers when competing for housing.
The second step on Khan’s agenda concerns wages: around 20% of jobs in the British capital allegedly don’t pay enough for workers to cover the costs of living. Taking purchasing power into consideration, a fair “living wage” in London would be around 10 pounds an hour, Khan believes. Although that might seem a utopian goal to set, the new mayor is conviced it can be achieved by providing tax relief as an incentive for firms to pay a living wage.
The third and last phase is about one of London’s proudest monuments to progress: the Tube. Carrying around 3 million commuters a day from the outskirts to the workplace, the metropolitan system of transport is one of the most efficient in Europe. However, it also happens to be one of the most expensive. Khan, government transport official between 2009 and 2010, intends to freeze all transport fares for the next four years, while continuing investment on the network. Might that be a little too ambitious? Mr. Khan begs to differ as he believes that cutting investment on bureaucracy and reducing fees for consultants might just do the trick.
Most of the Western world rejoiced at the news of Khan’s election: it is easy to translate his story into the American cliché of the self-made man, born poor and then making his way across society towards ultimate success despite the ideological b
arriers he faced. This is an ideal we are very familiar with because of our Hollywood-based cinematic culture. However, more than as a story of personal emancipation, I like to think of this event as the product of a society that is on an ever-rising path towards greater civilization and universal acceptance, that in a not too distant future will be able to achieve extraordinary things, despite the efforts of the hard-skinned reactionaries lurking in the dark.