Friday 13 May 2016

London Mayoral Elections 2016: My Hopes for the Future

This is the second opinion piece I have written today, the other being about my son SAT’s tests that took place this week. I can’t help it. As someone once said to me “Shut up! You have to have a b****y opinion about everything”.

I have been watching the going’s on around the London Mayoral elections with interest and some unease. The level of racism and islamophobia I have seen in recent years has made me despair sometimes. To then see it more and more openly, even by politicians leaves me with a queasy feeling. The recent Conservative campaign attempted to smear the winning Labour candidate as some of kind of extremist when I think he is fairly liberal (he supported gay marriage for instance). Where does that leave the rest of us more conservative Muslims? 

I also thought the tactic to target certain ethnic groups and play them off against others was pretty disgusting:

The prime minister has been criticised for sending out letters targeted at London’s Gujarati Hindu and Punjabi Sikh voters, calling on them to back the Conservative mayoral candidate, Zac Goldsmith. The letters from David Cameron suggest Goldsmith is the only sensible choice as mayor for London’s south Asian communities, at a time when we need “to be keeping our streets safe from terrorist attacks”. – The Guardian 28th March 2016

Seriously? The term “divide and conquer” comes to mind. I do think some communities have become more polarised, as a child and teenager I identified as an Asian as an adult I identify as Muslim. That doesn’t mean I hate the Sikhs and Hindu’s I grew up with. I still wish them nothing but well and as a Muslim still believe I need to fulfil their rights over me as a neighbour, a community member or someone who comes to the Council I work for, for assistance.

I did think that this campaign didn’t feel like something I would have expected from the Conservative candidate.  He has always come across as a fairly decent type of person with a passion for environmental issues (always a plus in my book). I thought that this campaign was something that came from the Party leadership although now they are trying to distance themselves and have turned on their candidate. I thought that they had tried to do in London, what seems to be working so well for Trump in the US and it turned out that Londoners were not going to put up with this nonsense.

Even if there seems to be a blame game going on now, I do think that the Conservative candidate had ample opportunity to decide that he was not going to allow his name to be tied to a campaign like the one we have just witnessed. Instead it seems he resigned himself to it and went along with it, making him just as culpable as his party.

Sadiq Khan being voted in should mean that all people and sections of the city have their interests fairly represented. At the same time, there is a sense of relief that Muslims can be envisaged as something other than extremists, terrorists or “other”, entirely different from everyone else.

We spent a few hours in the city centre last week for a trip to the Pakistani High Commission to sort out some paperwork. Driving through the city it struck me how beautiful and prosperous the city was and at the same time how intimidating and cold. There are enormous new glass and steel buildings going up everywhere, new cycle superhighways full of cyclists and bizarrely numerous joggers. Everywhere there are expensive shops full of beautiful things. There is an enormous sense of energy and bustle and prosperity wherever you look.  You can see why London is considered such a world-class city.

I hope the New Mayor can look beyond this and help the most vulnerable in our city. London has become a very, very expensive city to live in, rents are beyond ridiculous (£1,400 upwards on my road for a three bedroom house, in a very ordinary suburb of East London) and the landlords will state from the beginning “no DSS” –i.e. no Council tenants. This coupled with the reform of the welfare system and the recession had left ordinary people struggling to get by. At the same time the prices of things have gone up ridiculously – not just house prices and rents but charges for services, the price of food. I have gone from not looking at the price of things and shopping at my nice local supermarket, to checking the price of everything and shopping at budget chains. At the same time my pay as a local government officer has been frozen for the last few years. I don’t say that to complain, I say that because it makes me wonder how an earth honest people on ordinary wages can afford to survive in this city.

London’s Poverty Profile 2015 by The London Trust cites statistics that tell us that 27% of Londoners live in poverty after housing costs are taken into account, almost 700,000 jobs in London (18%) pay below the London Living Wage and the number has increased for five consecutive years. At 860,000 there are more private renters in poverty than social renters or owners, a decade ago it was the least common tenure among those in poverty. There were 27,000 landlord possession orders last year.

Admittedly, the new Mayor doesn’t have much of a record to beat. I still haven’t worked out what the previous Mayor achieved apart from winding me up every time I saw him in the media (1 and 2), but there is still an enormous task at hand.

View of London from the Docks in the East

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