London mayor Sadiq Khan is currently contesting his second term in the mayoral election, having served as mayor since 2016. (Photo by NIKLAS HALLE'N/AFP via Getty Images)

Sadiq Khan: ‘I believe that diversity is not a weakness but a strength’

by LAUREN CODLING

LONDON mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged his support to British Asians in the capital in the run-up to the mayoral elections next month, claiming his policies “address the needs and aspirations of the community”.

The Labour candidate is currently contesting his second term in the mayoral election, having served as mayor since 2016. The result of the vote is due to be announced on May 6, with Khan pitted against Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey, the Green Party’s Sian Berry and
Liberal Democrat Luisa Porritt.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye ahead of the vote, Khan stressed his loyalty to the community, noting his efforts supporting small businesses and affordable housing. He highlighted his investment in improving the quality of the capital’s air – which has been proven to impact BAME communities hardest.

“Just look at my track record over the last five years,” he said. “(My) policies address the aspirations and needs of Asians.”

The British Pakistani politician, who grew up in south London, added: “Diversity is not a weakness, but a strength. Over the past five years, you’ve seen what can be achieved, and I’m hoping in my second term to do even more building on the success of the first term.”

He also drew attention to his engagement with the community during Diwali and Ramadan, while criticising Bailey for his comments on Hindus and Muslims. “The election is a two-horse race between me standing up for London and (Bailey). If you read some of the things he has said about Diwali, Eid and multiculturalism (…) I don’t think we want someone like that representing our city,” Khan said, referring to Bailey’s controversial pamphlet for the Centre for Policy Studies in 2005.

At the time, Bailey wrote that multiculturalism could make UK a “crime-riddled cesspool” and said accommodating Muslims and Hindus “robs Britain of its community”.

He has since publicly apologised for the remarks, including in an Eastern Eye interview in 2018.

London mayor Sadiq Khan during the parade at Pride in London 2019

In addition, Khan emphasised his work to support London businesses, particularly those in central London that have faced financial difficulties during the coronavirus pandemic.

Eastern Eye has heard from a number of restaurateurs in the capital that have admitted they are struggling to survive. Café Spice Namaste proprietor Cyrus Todiwala said he had lost up to 80 per cent of his trade during the crisis and voiced concerns on the future of his family- run business. Shams Uddin, the owner of The Monsoon in Brick Lane, east London, disclosed his fears for the industry as many owners struggle to make money without regular customers travelling into central London for food and drink.

Khan’s office, City Hall, set up the London Covid Business Forum in response, of which British-Indian restaurateur Asma Khan is one of the advisors. “What is clear from all these businesses – this must be the last lockdown,” he said. “Hospitality, retail, leisure and tourism rely upon footfall. We’ve been lobbying the government to have policies supportive to this industry in the absence of people returning. The obvious one is to extend some of the furlough schemes, extend the VAT relief, and so forth.”

A Surgo Ventures poll this week found that those in Greater London (71 per cent) have among the smallest proportion of those who would get the vaccine immediately when offered, compared to 85 per cent across other regions in the UK.

Sadiq Khan with Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz during a visit to Newham’s walk-in coronavirus test centre in East Ham last year

Asked how he would continue to reach out to BAME communities to ensure they feel confident enough to have the jab, Khan said he would continue his work with “respected message carriers.” Some ethnic minorities have less trust in people in positions of power and could not be persuaded overnight to trust the government, Khan said. Working with local community and religious leaders helped to increase the confidence of Londoners who may feel hesitant to engage with the vaccine programme, he added.

“I’m also really pleased that we’ve managed to persuade the NHS to have places where the vaccine can be received where communities trust, such as places as worship,” he said. “The good news is we’re closing the gap between white people receiving the vaccine and other minority groups. That needs to be narrowed, so there is no gap at all.”

He added: “My message to Eastern Eye readers is, who do you trust and go to for information? The answer is probably your GP or pharmacist so you should go to them for information, rather than relying upon people on social media who may be Covid deniers or anti-vaxxers.”

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