I am not voting for Sadiq Khan.
It is a pity. I think he is a good candidate, in many ways. In fact, if the polls are correct, I think he will make a capable Mayor of London.
My problem is with Sadiq Khan’s judgement, particularly in relation to his relationship with, and indeed defence of, hate preachers and extremists of various types.
Politicians do develop and change their views on the world over time. It is good that they do. I am pleased, for example, that John Bercow MP became a liberal, after starting his political life in the Monday Club. But when you change, it is important to recognise your past mistakes, explain why they were wrong, and set out what you will do to put matters right.
If you do not do so, there’s no reason to believe that the ‘conversion’ is sincere, or that similar ‘mistakes’ will not be made in the future.
I have been waiting for Sadiq Khan to make the following speech:
Over the past decade, I have been on a political journey. I accept that, in the past, I have worked with, defended and promoted a politics which I have come to accept is both abhorrent and dangerous. I want to use this opportunity to explain what I will do to put things right.
Before I became an MP, I was a lawyer who specialised in representing radicals: some of whom were hatemongers like Louis Farrakhan. I believed strongly, as I believe now, that everybody deserves legal representation. That is particularly so, when somebody is accused of a crime. Although the argument is not as strong in civil cases, it is still important that people are able to receive legal advice.
I am afraid that my past reputation as a lawyer who is friendly to non-white racists made me the first choice for Farrakhan. I am ashamed of that. After all, I probably would have turned down Paul Golding of Britain First as a client, and although I think even he should have access to a lawyer, I doubt he would have turned to me for advice.
As a human being, I am horrified by the racist and hateful politics that Louis Farrakhan espouses and promotes. As a politician, I will put my efforts into standing up against his Jew-baiting and will do what I can to oppose his influence in London.
Not all of my errors were made in my capacity of a lawyer. I accept that I have no real defence to many of these misjudgements. All I can do is to explain what I thought at the time, and why I now accept that I was wrong. I would like to talk about three of these mistakes.
I gave the benefit of the doubt to the anti-gay, anti-Jewish, anti-Shia and pro-terrorism Sheikh, Yusuf Al Qaradawi, and suggested to the House of Commons, when I was the chair of the Muslim Council of Britain’s legal affairs committee, that he had been unfairly demonised.
As Shadow Lord Chancellor, I accepted an award from the Muslim Brotherhood-linked student organisation, FOSIS, whose members have been linked to some of the worst terrorist plots that the United Kingdom has seen, and which tours hate preachers around university campuses.
I have explanations for all of them. What I said about Qaradawi was a little less than a full-throated defence. Many other politicians in my party participated in the Global Peace and Unity conference and to be honest, we didn’t really look too closely at what the other speakers were saying. At FOSIS, I confined myself to speaking about community development and the value of education.
But none of these cut the ice, for me. I got it wrong. I should have taken these opportunities to speak out against these individuals and these organisations. Had I done so, I might have made a difference. I might have made a contribution to turning back the tide of hatred and extremism. I wish, now, that I had done so.
This isn’t meant to be an attempt to minimise my own errors of judgement, but I am not the only politician who now has to apologise for these past associations. Many of my Labour colleagues, and even some Tory MPs ended up on the same platforms as me, alongside some of London’s worst hate preachers. I raise this not to suggest that my alliances were right, but to point out that it is not racist to criticise me for them. We all deserve criticism.
I also raise it, to point out how commonplace and unproblematic alliances with Islamist extremists have now become in British politics.
How did so many of us go so wrong?
For far too long, we did not take the problem of hatred and extremism, in particular within Muslim communities and politics, seriously. We saw the evidence on blogs, but dismissed them as racist accusations. We fooled ourselves, sometimes, that by engaging with extremists who merely preached hatred, rather than carrying out acts of violence themselves, we were somehow helping to set up a bulwark against Al Qaeda. How wrong we were. In fact, we were guilty of bringing hatred into the political mainstream, and making it more difficult to oppose it.
We also saw this politics as fringe and unimportant. I was wrong. As we’ve seen from the revelations over the past months about the extremist views of both Muslim and non-Muslim Labour activists and even MPs, this politics has come to define a part of Labour. A part which, under Jeremy Corbyn – who counts Hamas and Hezbollah among his ‘friends‘ – is now in the driving seat.
My views have changed, dramatically, over the past decade. It is hard to pick a particular turning point, but I was pole-axed by the sectarian murder, at Easter, of a mild Ahmadi shopkeeper. I now see, clearly, the connection between the hateful rhetoric of the Islamist clerics with whom I once shared platforms and the consequence of that speech, in the real world.
I am not the only Muslim who has become increasingly perturbed by the tide of hatred and extremism within our communities. I stand with them. I am not the only Labour politician who feels deeply uncomfortable when I look into the mirror and see what our Party has become. I stand with them too.
As Mayor, I promise to speak out against hate preachers, without qualification. I will not speak on platforms with them. I will made sure that institutions associated with such figures do not receive a penny of public money. And I will do what I can to establish a zero-tolerance policy within Labour of this divisive and sectarian politics.
We must turn back the tide. I both hope and believe that it is not too late to do so.
Sadiq Khan has not made this speech.
And so, I cannot vote for Sadiq Khan.