If Sadiq Khan was a fictional character, I’d suspect his creator had used Arnold Bennett’s The Card (1911) for inspiration. Bennett’s hero, the engaging opportunist Denry Machin, was born in humble circumstances, and his mother worked as a seamstress – as did Sadiq’s. Sadiq’s past behaviour (as widely documented here and elsewhere) is open to some question. Denry begins his career by taking advantage of a master’s absence to alter the marks on his exam results, thus winning a scholarship to a superior Endowed School, and never stops being a bit of a chancer. His entrepreneurial flair enables him to rise to prosperity via rent collecting, journalism, tourist boat trips, and a popular (if unscientific) ‘Chocolate Remedy’ to counter seasickness.
When the Mayor of Bursley dies, Denry’s mind immediately starts to think how he might be able to gain a populist advantage, explaining to his wife:
“Football has got to do with everything. And it’s been a disastrous mistake in my career that I’ve never taken any interest in football.’
Denry effects the transfer of a high profile player to the ailing local club – and thus ensures support for his candidacy. Like Sadiq Khan his appeal lies partly in novelty – the ‘breath of fresh air factor’.
Two days later a letter appeared in the Signal (signed “Fiat Justitia”), suggesting that Denry, as some reward for his public spirit, ought to be the next mayor of Bursley, in place of Alderman Bloor deceased. The letter urged that he would make an admirable mayor, the sort of mayor the old town wanted in order to wake it up. And also it pointed out that Denry would be the youngest mayor that Bursley had ever had, and probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The sentiment in the last idea appealed to the town. The town decided that it would positively like to have the youngest mayor it had ever had, and probably the youngest mayor in England that year. The Signal printed dozens of letters on the subject.
Bennett’s description of a collective move in Denry’s favour, with a focus on his youth, aligns with a similar apparent wave of approval (albeit clearly not universal) in favour of Khan, based in part on the fact he would be the first Muslim, and first non-white, Mayor of London. Sadiq Khan’s positioning of himself as the pragmatic ‘big tent’ counterpoint to Jeremy Corbyn – he even mentioned Tony Blair – may yet win over a few more waverers. Some, legitimately, will want to see more from the new mayor. Others – such as most of those commenting below Guido Fawkes’ caption competition – will never be satisfied.