by Atul Hatwal
Zac Goldsmith’s campaign was a disgrace. But not for the reason many in Labour think and the party is about to learn the wrong lesson as a result.
The consensus is that Goldsmith’s attacks on Khan’s links to extremists and innuendos about his radicalism – a barely coded insinuation about Labour’s candidate being an Islamist – backfired.
Londoners resiled from the evident racism and prejudice
That much is true.
However, there is a distinction between the principle and practice of Goldsmith’s campaign strategy.
Several within Labour are busily convincing themselves that the principle of raising Khan’s connections to unsavoury characters was itself an inflammatory act (just a few examples here, here and here.)
It is legitimate to hold a Mayoral candidate accountable for their connections. As a voter, I would want to know if Zac Goldsmith was linked in any way with fascists and far right agitators.
A Labour campaign that publicised these links would only be doing its job.
The work of all the main parties to expose the racists, reactionaries and fantasists that populate Ukip’s ranks has been a public service.
Voters need to know who is asking for their mandate.
To raise Sadiq Khan’s past activities, whether as a lawyer or backbench MP, is fair game.
Dismissing any enquiry in this direction as racism or Islamophobia is politically self-harming.
It creates a blind spot, an area where the party refuses to engage or rebut the detail of allegations.
This is how parties get sucker-punched. Just ask John Kerry about Swift Boats.
The problem with Tories’ Mayoral campaign was in its implementation.
Their obsession with Suliman Gani exemplified the toxic mix of incompetence and mendacity that destroyed Goldsmith’s candidacy.
To focus on Sadiq Khan’s contact with Gani was utter idiocy. This is a cleric, who had had his photo taken with Zac Goldsmith, was pictured in Downing Street and had been assiduously courted by the Conservatives to make inroads into the Muslim vote.
The lack of prior research to uncover this information (or worse still, the decision to ignore it) and inexplicable persistence with the claims about Gani, even after they blew up following their initial roll-out, are beyond reason.
This was the real disgrace: to knowingly lead with a spurious charge that was at least as applicable to Goldsmith, in the hope that some extremist mud would stick to the Muslim candidate.
It seems a subtle distinction – to criticise the Tory campaign for its implementation rather than its approach, but it is important, particularly for Labour.
One of the party’s abiding weaknesses over recent years has been to view the world through a binary moral prism. Labour good. Others bad.
It breeds intellectual complacency and insularity. Self-reflection is absent and anyone who disagrees is in the wrong and to be castigated – hardly the right mindset to win over the Tory voters that Labour needs to win an election.
In another context, Labour railed against the principle of the bedroom tax and attacked the Tories’ evil motivations for proposing it.
The idea of social housing being matched to the size of the families who need it is not evil.
The implementation of the policy, in the face of the obvious evidence of widespread misery and failure in achieving its ascribed goals, was what was disgusting about the bedroom tax.
London Labour is triumphant. But too many in the party take Sadiq Khan’s victory as a validation of their world view that Tories are evil and any questioning of Labour representatives’ sharing platforms with Islamists, is somehow Islamophobic.
This is a very dangerous lesson to learn. The type of lesson that will lead inexorably to general election pain.
Atul Hatwal is editor of Uncut