It’s disappointing to see how many Tories are buying into Labour’s spin about Zac Goldsmith having fought a ‘dog whistle’ campaign and – even more ludicrously – blaming that for his defeat. Any Conservative candidate faced an uphill struggle getting elected in London, one of the only areas in the country where Labour did better in 2015 than it did in 2010. Even Boris, who has a rare ability to appeal to Labour voters, only beat Ken Livingstone in 2012 by 62,538 votes.
The first prominent Conservative to peddle this theory was London Assembly member Andrew Boff, who appeared on Newsnight to accuse Goldsmith of equating ‘people of conservative religious views’ with ‘sympathising with terrorism’. ‘It was effectively saying that people of conservative religious views are not to be trusted and you shouldn’t share a platform with them and that’s outrageous,’ he told Kirsty Wark.
But some of the people Sadiq Khan has shared platforms with, spoken alongside and defended in the House of Commons and elsewhere aren’t merely ‘people of conservative religious views’. In some cases, they are bona fide extremists.
For instance, in 2004 Khan gave evidence to the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in his capacity as the chair of the Muslim Council of Britain’s legal affairs committee in which he argued that the Muslim scholar Dr Yusuf Al-Qaradawi ‘is not the extremist that he is painted as being’. As I wrote in an earlier Spectator blog, this is the same man who has gone to great lengths to develop an elaborate, Koranic defence of suicide bombings, which he calls ‘martyrdom operations’.
Before that, Khan appeared at a conference alongside Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, who ran a camp in Pakistan that trained the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. With respect, Mr Boff, that’s not just a person with ‘conservative religious views’. That’s an actual terrorist.
It was perfectly proper for Goldsmith to draw people’s attention to these and other dubious episodes in Khan’s past and it produced a beneficial result, namely, Khan’s repudiation of these unsavoury individuals and his assurance that he would have no truck with Islamic extremists of any stripe if he became London’s mayor.
Today is a fresh start for Sadiq Khan. He has a fantastic opportunity to be – in his own words – the British Muslim who fights Islamic extremism. If he stays true to his word, he will be performing a great public service that everyone in London should be thankful for, including Conservative voters.
What would be a disastrous is if he makes the same mistakes as his Labour predecessor and extends the mayoral embrace to terrorist-sympathisers. Ken Livingstone once described Al-Qaradawi – a man who defends wife-beating and female genital mutilation, as well as suicide bombing – as a ‘leading progressive voice’.
I’m prepared to give Khan the benefit of the doubt and assume he wouldn’t do anything so foolish even in the absence of Goldsmith having forced him to denounce Islamic extremism in the campaign. But in case Khan ever wavers, or comes under pressure from Jeremy Corbyn to invite his ‘friends’ in Hamas or Hezbollah to City Hall, the so-called ‘dog whistle’ aspect of Zac Goldsmith’s campaign (which was nothing of the kind) should help stiffen his backbone.