To delight London City Hall, two diversity candidates

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One is of Pakistani origin, the other has Jamaican roots: coming from diversity, the two main candidates for mayor of London remain exceptions in the electoral landscape of a United Kingdom in full introspection on racism .

Candidate for his succession in the municipal elections on Thursday, Labor Sadiq Khan, 50, is given the winner over his conservative opponent, one year younger, Shaun Bailey, who grew up like him in a modest family in the capital of nine million inhabitants.

Postponed for a year because of the pandemic, these local elections should also allow 48 million voters in England to renew some 5,000 seats in 143 local assemblies, and the Scots to designate a new regional parliament, a crucial vote on background of desire for independence.

Attributed to the cosmopolitan character specific to the metropolis where only 45% of the inhabitants declared themselves as “white Britons” according to the 2011 census, this face-to-face remains exceptional in a ballot where the majority of leading candidates are white.

It comes at a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has revived the debate on racism and colonialism in a country where politics is still often the preserve of an elite molded in the mold of the universities of Cambridge and Oxford.

“In 2016, the city chose me as mayor, showing how progressive it is,” Sadiq Khan, son of a Pakistani bus driver who became the first Muslim city councilor of a large western capital, told AFP. succeeding the brash Boris Johnson.

Shaun Bailey dreams of becoming “the first black mayor of London”, a function enjoying great visibility at the national level, “and the first black politician of this stature in Europe”, saying to AFP “important that the people feel represented ”.

Sadiq Khan


In 2016, Sadiq Khan had beaten the wealthy Tory Zac Goldsmith, a pure product of the elite whose Islamophobic campaign had not convinced.

“It is therefore not surprising that the conservatives have decided to choose a candidate from an ethnic minority”, in order to present themselves as “a liberal, inclusive party”, analysis for AFP Steven Fielding, professor of political history at the University of Nottingham.

Shaun Bailey is not, however, free from controversy, criticized for comments made a few years ago questioning certain aspects of multiculturalism or considered retrograde about women.

But beyond the origin of the candidates and partisan divisions, their “personality” also plays a role, nuance political scientist Simon Usherwood, from the University of Surrey, to AFP, recalling the case of Boris Johnson.

Shaun Bailey agrees: “I have a unique experience thanks to my background, but it’s not the only thing I can contribute”.

This former social worker raised by his mother, who was special adviser to ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, wants to give London “a new start” with more jobs and housing.

He also promises a safe turn of the screw against the scourge of stabbing crimes, which Sadiq Khan is accused of having failed to stem.

Progress “on the surface”

For experts, the situation in London attests to the progress made in recent years in terms of diversity in politics, even if the room for improvement remains significant.

Several conservative ministers come from ethnic minorities, such as those of the Interior or Finance.

But the question arises of knowing “how sincere it is”, underlines Steven Fielding: the Labor and Conservative parties remain very white and are struggling to resolve racism, Islamophobia or anti-Semitism within them, which s’ expresses in particular on social networks.

For Dibyesh Anand, head of the social sciences department at Westminster University, this is progress “on the surface” only because political discourse remains essentially oriented towards the white United Kingdom, with a very right-wing and nationalist position of the government. .

Thus, despite the examination of conscience on racism, the latter endorsed a controversial report refuting the institutionally racist character of the country and defends tooth and nail national heroes like Winston Churchill, questioned in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, he notes.

For the experts, the change will come through education, the mobilization of civil society or a reform of the method of nominating candidates.

Sadiq Khan wants to be “optimistic” for the future, because “there is a new generation of really talented politicians coming from different backgrounds who will accelerate progress”.