Would-be London Mayor Zac Goldsmith’s Anti-Muslim Playbook
Robert Mackey, The Intercept, May 3 2016
Stop me you’ve heard this one: An outsider politician who owes his station in life to the hundreds of millions he inherited from his father is running a failing campaign for office based on stoking fear of Muslims. “Failing” as in 20% down in the polls days before the election. That’s a clue that we are speaking about someone other than Donald Trump. In this case, the politician’s name is Zac Goldsmith, and he is the millionaire scion of a prominent British (Jewish, to spoil the comparison – RB) family. He was thought of until recently as a mild-mannered Tory MP, known mainly for his environmentalism and his sister’s friendship with Princess Diana. For the past two months, however, he has generated waves of disgust and, polls suggest, not much sympathy, by pursuing a mayoral campaign filled with racially divisive innuendo about the supposed danger of electing his Labour rival, Sadiq Khan, a son of Pakistani Muslim immigrants. Things reached something of a crescendo over the weekend when Goldsmith, advised by a political consultant whose website boasts that he was “described by Newt Gingrich as Britain’s own Lee Atwater,” published a dog-whistle appeal to voters in the right-wing tabloid Mail on Sunday that implied Khan, a moderate MP, would somehow fail to defend the British capital from Jihadis. The piece, which offered nothing more than hyperbolic claims that Khan was linked to extremists through his prior work as a human rights lawyer, ran alongside a photograph of a bus destroyed during the Jul 7 2005 bombings in London, under the headline:
On Thursday, are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour Party that thinks terrorists are its friends?
The use of that image, and the perverse implication that the Muslim candidate whose own father drove a London bus should be associated with the terrorists (or false-flag artists – RB) who carried out that atrocity, did further damage to Goldsmith’s reputation, energizing his opponents and apparently costing him the support of even some friends and Tory colleagues. Among those who expressed disgust at the opinion piece were Sayeeda Warsi, a Tory member of the House of so-called ‘Lords’ and the first Muslim to serve in a British cabinet, and Goldsmith’s friend Bianca Jagger, who accused him of surrendering to Australian campaign strategist Lynton Crosby.
This effort to play on fears of Islamist terrorism, days before the voters go to the polls was perhaps the most blatant part of Goldsmith’s campaign against Khan, but as Simon Hattenstone explained in the Graun, it followed a concerted effort to drive a wedge between different parts of London’s large South Asian population. The first phase of the effort, which generated alarm in March, concerned campaign literature mailed to London voters presumed to be Hindus or Sikhs, based on their last names, that seemed designed to exploit anti-Muslim tensions among different faith groups from the Indian subcontinent. One line of attack seemed to be based on the assumption that members of those communities would reject Khan, the British-born son of Pakistanis, either because he did not attend a ceremony to welcome India’s divisive prime minister Narendra Modi or because, they were informed, he might impose a tax on family gold jewelry (not only a store of wealth but also a cause of emulation among these communities – RB). That part of Goldsmith’s campaign led Shazia Awan, a Tory activist and former parliamentary candidate from Wales, to speak of an “attitude to ethnic minority voters” that recalled colonial-era strategies of divide-and-rule, which she said have no place in a modern cosmopolitan Britain. Awan wrote in the New Statesman last month:
I always admired Goldsmith and felt he was a principled Tory, an environmental campaigner, someone who despite the privilege he was born into, truly loves the real London and the people that make this city great. All I see now is a man who is too weak to stand up to those directing his campaign, and as a result ruining his own reputation and credibility in the fickle pursuit of power.
Goldsmith’s attempt to position himself as a defender of British Indian culture also led to some inadvertent hilarity when he insisted last month that he loved Bollywood cinema, but was immediately stumped when asked to name a single actor or film that he liked.
After Khan directly accused Goldsmith of running an Islamophobic campaign, Goldsmith responded by attempting to connect Khan himself to extremism, by telling the Evening Standard that Khan had shown “appalling judgment” by speaking at events alongside “repellent” extremists such as cleric Suliman Gani. That attempt backfired spectacularly when Gani revealed photographic evidence that he had also appeared with Goldsmith, and even campaigned for the Tories against Khan at last year’s general election, polemicizing against the Labour candidate’s vote for same-sex marriage. The result of Goldsmith’s campaign is that he not only trails badly in the polls but has even inspired Graun columnist Owen Jones to call on voters to deliver a landslide victory for Khan. London’s ethnic minority population is now 44%.
Ken Livingstone, a former Labour mayor of the capital who was repudiated by Khan last week for bringing up Hitler in a debate over anti-Semitism, has expressed sympathy for Goldsmith’s apparent unease, telling the Graun last week:
Zac looks as if he’s heading for a breakdown, because he’s being forced to behave in a way that isn’t natural to him. Given the cosmopolitan nature of his family, he can’t possibly believe all this crap.
Goldsmith’s sister Jemima converted to Islam in 1995 (in order) to marry the Pakistani cricketer-politician Imran Khan. After that marriage dissolved, she returned to her maiden name. She is now known as Jemima Goldsmith again except on Twitter, where one of the couple’s two sons insisted that she continue to use the handle @Jemima_Khan. As she noted in March, that has created a fair bit of confusion about the mayoral race among her followers.