LONDON — The contest for London mayor will pit a former Labour government minister against a wealthy Conservative environmentalist.
The Conservatives said Friday that party members had chosen Zac Goldsmith, who is of Jewish descent, to fight the May 5 election against Labour’s Sadiq Khan, a Muslim.
Goldsmith is a lawmaker and former editor of The Ecologist magazine from a prominent wealthy family. He said transit, housing and the environment would be his top priorities if he’s elected.
Khan, son of a bus driver from Pakistan, is a lawmaker who served in Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s government.
London, in fact, has two mayors – the largely ceremonial position of Lord Mayor of the city – and the more recently established political mayor, created in 2000. The city has had two elected mayors since then, both larger-than-life personalities. Labour left-winger Ken Livingstone ran the city from 2000 to 2008, and tousle-haired Conservative Boris Johnson has been in charge since then.
Johnson, who is leading a trade visit to Israel in November, has declined to run a third time after being re-elected as an MP in this year’s general election. (Johnson is widely spoken of as being ambitious to succeed Prime Minister David Cameron as leader of the Tory Party).
Goldsmith only made his first visit to Israel a couple of years ago and has not really spoken much about his attitudes to the Middle East. But in trying to garner Jewish support for his mayoral candidacy, he spoke to the London paper the Jewish News, and said that he thought of Israel as “one of the most dynamic and exciting places on earth, fizzing with ideas and energy and innovation so the economic ties are very important.” He said it was a “bright light” in the region which he hoped to get to know better, regardless of the outcome of the mayoral contest.
The candidate has called himself a supporter and friend of Israel though “not a completely uncritical supporter.”
Khan, MP for the south London constituency of Tooting, is the former Communities and Faiths Minister in Gordon Brown’s government.
A savvy politician, he has been assiduously wooing the Jewish community since putting himself forward for the mayoral race. He has made it clear to UK Jewish media that he is not Ken Livingstone Mark Two, and, indeed, told the Jewish Chronicle: “I want to reassure you I’m not like the last guy, I’m not going to be like previous Labour politicians. For me it’s a source of sorrow that people who historically voted Labour are now not voting Labour.”
In an interview last month, Khan said: “I recognize that at the last mayoral election and at the general election, there were many Jews who felt they simply couldn’t vote Labour. Being a Jewish Londoner in 2015 is a challenge. I didn’t fully understand the scale of anti-Semitism, and it is an outrage that schools and places of worship should have to have the level of security which they do in order to protect the community from anti-Semitism.”
Khan told the Mail on Sunday that the Labour Party – and by extension him and his bid to become mayor – had to move away from its “unacceptable anti-Jewish” image. He has been at pains to tell potential Jewish voters that he wants to be a mayor for all Londoners, and insists that if he becomes mayor he will not “use it as a pulpit to pronounce on foreign affairs.” He does not believe that foreign policy should be an issue for the post.