• Monday, March 04, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: Sadiq Khan: ‘I won’t let extremists stop me’

London mayor raises concerns over misinformation and race hate ahead of May election

THREAT ASSESSMENT: Sadiq Khan (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

LONDON’S MAYOR, Sadiq Khan, has warned of dirty tricks to spread lies and misinformation about him during May’s mayoral race.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, Khan said that those who do not like him will use deep fake artificial intelligence to try to discredit him.

Last year (November), the mayor fell victim to a fake audio clip posted on social media which made out that he wanted to postpone Armistice Day, so a pro-Palestinian march could go ahead.

“That was a complete lie, a fabrication, but the problem was that misinformation spreads like wildfire,” he said. “Those on the far right, those extremists, some Conservatives, and others, amplified that.

“So, an impression was given that I was instructing the police to ban Remembrance Day, and that led to the far right turning up that weekend.

“You saw that we can outrage behaviour from the far right causing problems around the Cenotaph, assaulting our police, breaking the law.

“Many experts think that this was a direct result of the deep fake audio.

“My concern is, in 2024, you’ll see more of this sort of stuff, algorithms being used in a mischievous way.

“Deep fake videos, deep fake audio being used to spread lies and misinformation, and it’s proper that we call that out.”

Far right protests at the Cenotaph on Rememberance Day were fuelled by a deep fake audio of his message, says the mayor (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)

After specialist officers reviewed the phoney audio, the Met Police said that the matter did not “constitute a criminal offence”.

Khan was clear that extremists fabricated the AI clip because of his stance on the Israeli-Hamas conflict.

“One of the things that I feel very passionate about is what’s happened in the Middle East,” he said.

“Of course, we’ve got to condemn what Hamas did in October the 7th, those 1200 souls that we lost, and taking children and other hostages.

“But we’ve got to condemn unequivocally also what [Benjamin] Netanyahu and his government are doing in Gaza.

“Almost 30,000 men, women and children killed, civilian buildings destroyed, hospitals destroyed, deprived of water and mortar essentials, and that’s why I’ve been calling for a ceasefire.”

Islamophobic campaign

In 2016 Eastern Eye reported how the mayoral race descended into accusations of Islamophobia and the Conservatives denying it.

During it, Khan’s opponent, Zac Goldsmith, accused him of providing “cover to extremists”.

Goldsmith, now a Conservative peer, rejected that he had called the mayor an extremist, but Muslim groups accused the party of targeting Khan because he of his faith.

Zac Goldsmith (Photo by Paul Ellis-WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Now, Khan told this newspaper the deep fake incident showed that the attacks had already begun.

He criticised the choice of the Tory candidate for mayor, Susan Hall.

“My fear is that the 2024 mayoral election will be very similar to the 2016 mayoral election, which you [Eastern Eye] reported on,” he explained.

“The Conservatives have chosen a candidate who’s a hard right politician, who couldn’t be more out of touch with our city and our values.

“She’s an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump, Boris Johnson and Suella Braverman.

“She cheered Liz Truss’ mini budget, she wants to deport migrants to Rwanda, and I think she hates London’s diversity.

Eastern Eye contacted Hall, but she declined to comment.

Susan Hall (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)

Khan said that the diverse communities in London were the capital’s strengths.

“I’m confident that Londoners will see through a campaign that seeks to divide us, a campaign that seeks to spread fear.

“But I’m worried by it that it has an impact on our kids and our nephews and nieces, because somebody who’s thinking about a career in politics or in public life may be put off by the sort of stuff I’ve got to go through.

“My concern is our parents, uncles and aunties, grandparents will say to their nephews, nieces, kids, grandkids, listen, if Sadiq going through this, then I worry about you, so please don’t get into politics.

“It’s really important we call this out.”

The mayor said it was the Asian communities which were supporting him through the personal attacks.

“One of the things that I’m humbled by is the huge support given to me by the Asian community.

“The Asian community have been fantastic, but it’s not just been in London, the greatest city in the world.

“In relation to their contribution, they’re making business and health and charity in the faith communities.

“In supporting me and calling out some of the racism that I’m at the receiving end of, often I don’t have to stand up for myself because our community stands up for me.”

No complacency

With the possibility that Donald Trump will be the Republican candidate for the US presidency, Khan reiterated that every time the former president posted on social media the more he would face threats.

“The police do their own risk assessments, and they’re obviously concerned.

“There’s been some independent research done that shows that there’s a massive increase in hatred I receive when Donald Trump is president.

“So, I’m afraid this year with Donald Trump once again running to be president, experts predict another surge in the hatred that I receive.

“You can do a graph, Donald Trump being president and Donald Trump saying stuff and the hatred I receive.”

I’m really excited about the chance of a Labour mayor working with a Labour prime minister, says Khan (Photo by Aaron Chown – WPA Pool/Getty Images)

Khan still needs police protection, and he told Eastern Eye that it impacted his family.

But he was adamant that this would not stop his meeting the people he has been elected to serve.

“The police will say proudly to you that I’m a pain in the arse because I still use a tube I still walk about, I still go to restaurants,” said the mayor.

“I still go to gigs and so forth, so it’s difficult for the police, and I’m really grateful for the police.

“But I’m not going to stop mixing and mingling, it’s a challenge for the police, whether it’s Diwali in the square [Trafalgar Square], or Eid in the square or Vaisakhi in the square or me using the tube or going to a restaurant.

“They want to make sure I’m safe, but what I’m not going to do is lock myself away because one of the things that keeps me grounded is my connection with the community and being out and about is really important to me.

“I’m grateful the police allow me to do as much as I can, within reason, but I’m not going to change because we can’t allow these extremists to cower us.”

Khan knows 2024 is going to be a decisive year and that Londoners are going to judge him on his record.

This includes freezing Transport for London fares until March 2025, extending free school meals for all primary children for the academic year, and extending the ultra-low emission zone (ULEZ) for the whole of the capital.

But the mayor told Eastern Eye neither he nor Labour should be complacent about the mayoral or general election.

“I’m hoping that Londoners will lend me their vote again on May 2nd.

“It’s not about making history, a third term, it’s about shaping our future.

“But I’m really excited about the chance of a Labour mayor working with a Labour prime minister.

“I’ve known Keir [Starmer] for almost 30 years, we used to work together as lawyers.

“He’s a thoroughly decent man, he understands our best years are ahead of us.

“He’s worked incredibly hard, so I’m really excited about the chance of working with Kier Starmer again when he’s prime minister, and I’m London mayor.

“But it will only happen, though, if people vote Labour on May 2nd, and whenever the general election is called.”

Eastern Eye

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