What does this mean for the Brexit vote on June 23?
Preface by Pam Barker | TLB staff writer
On Thursday, dubbed ‘Super Thursday’, the whole of Britain went to the polls to vote in local elections for councillors, assembly members, mayors and police commissioners. The headline grabber was that London got its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan.
Conservative David Cameron’s party got its second national mandate to govern in May 2015, so elections such as these are usually opportunities for the opposition to get ahead as people essentially vote out of protest. As Haaretz notes, however, ‘[f]or the first time in thirty years, this trend was reversed with Labour doing worse than in the 2012 local elections and the Conservative Party actually making modest gains, particularly in Scotland.’
Labour got solidly trounced in Scotland, rather surprisingly, to become the third party behind the Conservatives, who are never a naturally popular party north of the border, especially since the days of Margaret Thatcher. In a roundup of the voting, the Guardian notes that the Scottish National Party (SNP) lost a little but generally retained its lead in the Scottish parliament at 63 seats, with 31 for the Conservatives and 24 for Labour.
In England, Labour got 31% of the vote with the Conservatives at 30%. Labour had been expecting heavy losses across the board, so the results were not as dismal as expected. In Wales, Labour still remained the dominant party but lost a key seat to Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru. The Liberal Democrats and Ukip also made some gains in various regions.
But it would be terrible news for Labour if they faced a general election any time soon. According to the Guardian, ‘[t]he polling analyst John Curtice suggested the results would translate into 301 Tory MPs in a general election, short of a majority, with Labour on 253.’ Labour party insiders also agree that the party has a very long way to go before being a serious contender in the 2020 general election.
After two Conservative mandates, this is a poor showing for Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, whose credibility is now in question. In fact, the focus of much of the election coverage has been on Labour’s performance and that of its leader.
Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn
The party has recently been dealing with charges of anti-semitism in the light of former London mayor Ken Livingstone’s remarks about Hitler having supported Zionism in 1932. That, plus comments made by other party members, has made Corbyn look ineffective in the way he has dealt with these charges. It is also believed to have been responsible for declines in the Jewish vote in constituencies with large Jewish populations in Thursday’s elections.
Sadiq Khan’s easy win as mayor for Labour in London (1,310,143 votes to 994,614), then, may have given Corbyn and Labour in general some reprieve since it signals a political change of hands. Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson has held the post since 2008.
The campaign of Khan’s opponent, Zac Goldsmith, has been mired in its own Islamophobic controversy for his remarks about Khan’s Muslim faith and his alleged consorting with extremists. Even David Cameron has been accused of being party to this racial profiling campaign tactic, which has left Goldsmith vulnerable to charges of poor judgement from members of his own party. In a large and highly multi-racial city like London, which prides itself on tolerance and diversity, Goldsmith’s campaign approach is widely seen as a serious error in judgement.
Newly-elected London mayor Sadiq Khan, contender Zac Goldsmith
The two mayoral candidates – Khan and Goldsmith – could hardly be more different.
Sadiq Khan, the winner, is a 45 year old human rights lawyer and practicing Muslim, born to working-class Pakistani parents, and was Labour MP for Tooting, a London borough, before the campaign. He attended state (public) schools in Tooting, and then did a law degree at the University of North London. He served as transport minister in Gordon Brown’s Labour government, being the first Muslim cabinet minister, and was also ex-Labour leader Ed Miliband’s campaign manager in Milliband’s bid to become leader of the party.
Zac Goldsmith, in stark contrast, is the son of billionaire financier Sir James Goldsmith, who attended upper-class Eton College but never went on to university. He is the former editor of Ecologist Magazine founded by his uncle who bequeathed it to him, and has been involved in environmental causes, notably opposing the runway expansion of Heathrow Airport. He has been the Conservative MP for Richmond Park since 2010, and married a member of the Rothschild family, Alice Miranda Rothschild, in 2013. He was regarded as a particularly lackluster candidate and could in no way have filled the dynamic shoes of eccentric outgoing Conservative mayor, Boris Johnson.
Going into the campaign, both had similar policies on housing, promising to build more homes and making sure Londoners get preferential access to housing instead of international buyers, but Khan had a formula to make private rental housing affordable relative to wages. Rising rents in London have made it impossible for low-income families to remain there.
In the area of transportation, Khan promised to freeze fares for 4 years, focusing again on affordability. And for crime and policing, Khan focused more on reducing the high number of stop and searches, which target minority communities causing a lot of resentment against London police. He also wants police recruitment to include more ethnic minorities.
The bigger question is, what does the victory of Sadiq Khan mean? With the Brexit vote just around the corner on June 23, an interesting question is how this victory will play into that vote.
Remarking generally, Matt Ford for The Atlantic writes,
A victory by Khan would be a signal moment in both British and European politics, to say the least. One year after Labour’s thorough defeat in the general elections, retaking London City Hall would a much-needed boost for the party as it tacks to the left under Jeremy Corbyn, its leader. It would also usher in the first Muslim mayor of the European Union’s largest city, a historic milestone as the continent, much like Britain itself, wrestles with identity, immigration, and integration.
Regarding the Brexit vote, it isn’t yet clear what impact it will have. Both the ‘leave’ and ‘remain’ campaigns for Britain’s membership in the EU are being spearheaded by Conservatives Boris Johnson (leave) and David Cameron (remain).
Research by University College London (UCL) shows that Labour voters, who are more likely to be working class, are more in favor of Brexit. And the Bank of England has confirmed that further immigration from the EU would drive down wages for those at the bottom end of the scale. YouGov research also confirms that working class groups among British voters would most likely support Brexit and that small business owners would also receive a net benefit. This despite Labour’s public anti-Brexit stance, although Corbyn is believed to be eurosceptical. Sadiq Khan’s voice could well be influential on the leave side if he chose to wade in against his party’s official stance.
About the author
Pam Barker is a TLB staff writer/analyst based in France. She has an extensive background in the educational systems of several countries at the college and university level as a teacher and administrator.