Labour’s newly elected candidate for London mayor Sadiq Khan, whose parents arrived in the UK from Pakistan for a better life, has vowed to provide youngsters with the same opportunities he had growing up to tackle huge inequalities in the city.
Khan, who swept to victory last Friday (11) after beating favourite Dame Tessa Jowell, told Eastern Eye there weren’t many places in the world where someone from an ethnic minority, a religious minority and a child of immigrants would be chosen by their party to represent London.
The son of a bus driver and a seamstress who stitched clothes to make ends meet and provide for her eight children, secured 59 per cent of the vote. He was backed by six unions and former Labour mayor Ken Livingstone.
Khan, who became the first Asian to attend cabinet and could become the first Muslim mayor of the city, finished ahead of former minister Jowell, who picked up 41 per cent of the votes.
Speaking to Eastern Eye following his victory, the father of two said he was sleep deprived after celebrating, but also “humbled” and “overwhelmed” by the result.
He said: “I think it’s wonderful. My parents came here for a better future. They raised a family here and this city has given us the opportunity to fulfill our potential in a way that not many places around the world could.
“That was one of the motivations for me to run as mayor. My worry is the opportunities I had and my family had aren’t being given to today’s Londoners. I speak to my cousins in Pakistan and India, and they don’t think they will be able to achieve what I have achieved here.”
The 44-year-old who grew up on a council estate in Tooting – the constituency he now represents – benefited from a surge in popularity for Jeremy Corbyn, the new Labour leader after supporters joined the party to vote for him.
This enabled them also to have a vote in the Labour mayoral election, and Khan was considered to be the most left-leaning among the candidate.
Khan nominated Corbyn to stand as Labour leader but did not vote for him. Some have argued this was a tactical move in order to garner more support for his campaign. He admitted Corbyn had “huge strengths” but he also recognised some people were “concerned and anxious” about his appointment.
“Thousands of people joined the Labour party to support Jeremy. He is hugely popular, but at the same time, I recognise there are a number of people who will be concerned and anxious and I’ve got to reassure them I am my own man.
“There will be some times, by the way, when Jeremy and I will disagree and I have got to argue for London sometimes against the government and maybe so-metimes against the senior leadership of the Labour party,” he said.
The former shadow justice minister is keen to win back the loyalty of Asians who deserted Labour during the last election and voted in large swathes for the Tories.
“I want Londoners who are Gujaratis, Tamils, Punjabis, Sikhs, Muslims to look at Labour and me again,” he told Eastern Eye. “I understand the huge cultural and economic benefits immigration brought, but at the same time, not enough of us are reaping the fruits of this city.
“You can’t get decent housing to rent or buy that’s affordable, you do a decent day’s work but aren’t able to get decent pay. You’ve got a small business but you aren’t able to expand because you can’t get finance. You’re a big business and you’re worried about competition from China and other parts of the world.
“I will be your mayor arguing on your behalf, getting the best deal for our city to make sure the London that my parents came to and the London that I was born and raised in can be the same London going forward as well.”
The former human rights lawyer who was a partner in a law firm, now has his sights set on beating Zac Goldsmith to City Hall. The environmentalist son of a billionaire is tipped to become the Conservative representative in the race.
In order to persuade green voters that he is the man for them over Goldsmith, Khan is campaigning against a new runway at Heathrow. He would like to see one at Gatwick airport instead, with a high speed rail link running between both airports.
He has also pledged to extend safe cycling lanes and is looking to ban HGV lorries in central London during rush hour to prevent further deaths.
Khan is also eager to be the most pro-business mayor the capital has seen.
“A big concern for me is that if the UK leaves the European Union, it will mean businesses won’t want to come to London, they will go to other parts of the EU,” he said.
“The Conservative candidate is probably going to be Zac Goldsmith. He’s anti EU, so that’s a good example of me arguing for London. I will work with the government to get jobs for this country.”
Khan explained that if he was elected next May, he would become the first London mayor who had run a business. During his legal career, he helped his firm expand from two partners to more than 50 staff and said he understood the frustrations of worrying about cash flow, regulation and going to the bank to extend the overdraft.
He added that he had listened to the concerns of businesses who told him they were worried about the lack of infrastructure in London which is home to over eight million people.
“I was the minister in charge of Crossrail (a new high frequency train route) that will be built in 2018, but what about Crossrail 2? What about extending the Bakerloo line? What about improving the trams and buses?”
Khan, whose children attended the same primary school as he did, was one of the tens of thousands of people to march through London last Saturday (12) in protest against Britain’s refugee policy.
“To turn your back on refugees demonstrates a lack of humanity. We need to make sure we provide somewhere for refugees who are fleeing persecution to stay,” Khan said.
Britain has agreed to take in 20,000 refugees over five years, far fewer than other major European countries.
Khan added: “The crisis is now, you can’t wait five years, we should make sure there are more vulnerable people relocated here. As a country we are the same size and have a similar infrastructure as Germany, who are doing a lot more.
“The march showed the true face of Londoners – humane and generous.”