Sadiq Khan and the tyranny of high-status opinion

How Sadiq turned London into a cultural playpen for the woke.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

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Whatever happened to Sadiq Khan, the bus driver’s son from Tooting? That was the ticket – pun intended – he soared to City Hall on in 2016. His ‘man of the people’ schtick was inescapable. He even tweeted about enjoying a cheeky Nando’s. The message was clear: I’m nothing like my predecessor as mayor, Boris Johnson, son of Bullingdon, or my Tory opponent for the mayoralty, Zac Goldsmith, son of a billionaire. No, I’m like you. Boy from Tooting done good. Shoulder-rubber with the little people. A breath of fresh air from the old elites who turned London into a playground for the rich and a hellhole for the poor.

Fast forward eight years and we can now see right through Sadiq’s On the Buses act. The myth of his social earthiness lies in pieces. He ended up being a far more elitist mayor than posh Boris. Under Sadiq, City Hall has become a hotbed of high-status opinion, a cradle of culture-war agitation. Critical race theory, the trans ideology, ivory-tower disdain for the populist throng – every voguish view of the upper-middle classes has found a home in Sadiq’s regime. His dad might have driven a bus but the only thing Khan’s driven is a juggernaut through the beliefs and needs of those Londoners he said he’d stand up for.

Londoners go to the polls on Thursday to choose their mayor. Khan is looking to secure an unprecedented third term. Surveys, it pains me to say, suggest he’s going to pull it off, even if his lead over his Tory rival, Susan Hall, has narrowed in recent weeks. Having Britain’s chief culture warrior back in City Hall will be a disaster. Sure, it wasn’t great when London was just a financial playground for the wealthy, but it’s worse now that it’s also become a cultural playpen for the woke.

His time in City Hall has felt like one huge tut at Londoners. His concern is less with structurally improving the city than with morally improving its citizens. Consider his recent ‘Maaate’ campaign. He implored men to ‘say maaate to a mate’ if they behave poorly towards women. The TV ads for this pseudo-blokeish finger-wag at blokes implied that it’s white working-class men in particular who are partial to sexism. Of course it is. It was classic Sadiq: bereft of solutions to actual crime, he launches a crusade against banter instead. Cheap virtue trumps hard policy every time with this bloke.

Indeed, contrast the enthusiasm with which the Sadiq clique huffed about sexist fellas on the pull with their distinct lack of interest in the far more serious problem of knife crime. Just the other week, in a radio clash, Tory candidate Susan Hall mentioned the gangs in London who go around with machetes. In his best condescending voice – maaate – Khan replied that Hall should ‘stop watching The Wire. What revolting arrogance. There are people with machetes in London. We’ve all seen the viral clips.

In fact, just this week a man with a sword attacked people in Hainault in north-east London. A 14-year-old boy was killed. The machete-wielding monster was captured on someone’s doorbell camera. So we don’t have to watch The Wire, Sadiq, to see men with machetes – a Londoner’s door cam will do. These are Caligulan levels of aloofness: a mayor breezily implying that machetes in London are a myth just days before one was used to kill a teenage boy. Maybe it’s Sadiq who needs to stop watching boxsets and take a look at the city he rules.

In Khan’s world, identity takes precedence over all else. That he’s happy to pontificate about white lads in skinny jeans who call women ‘love’ but far less comfortable taking a lead on knife crime should not be surprising. Knife crime is primarily a tragedy of the black community. The majority of knife attacks are carried out by young black Londoners, and they’re far more likely to be the victims, too. Khan’s woke urge is to bury the tough questions such statistics raise. Far easier to make fun of drunk white men than to grapple with the cultural corrosion that has birthed a nihilistic gang culture in parts of the city.

Even in times of real crisis, Khan reaches for critical race theory. Just weeks into the Covid-19 outbreak in early 2020 he was blathering on about the disease’s disproportionate impact on the ‘BAME’ community (that’s ‘black and ethnic minority’). The idea that this virus is a ‘great leveller’ is a ‘complete myth’, he said. Shorter version: if you’re white you’ll be a little safer from sickness. That he played identity politics even with Covid was sickening. London needed unity yet all he gave was more identity: more Oppression Olympics, more prattle about white privilege and BAME pain.

Under Khan, identity trumps safety, too. Khan is a devotee of the trans religion. He is often seen giving voice to its post-truth mantra: ‘Trans women are women. Trans men are men. Non-binary people are non-binary. All gender identities are valid.’ ‘All gender identities are valid’ – the cry of bus drivers everywhere! When a longstanding feminist adviser to City Hall asked Sadiq’s team for reassurances that female-only spaces in the city would be preserved, she was first ignored, then sacked. ‘Has Sadiq Khan sacrificed women?’, she asked. Well, he’s sacrificed everything else at the altar of identitarianism – why not women, too?

Khan’s time in City Hall has exposed the doublespeak of woke. London is ‘open for all’, he loves to say. Slogans like that are actually designed to distinguish the virtuous members of the right-thinking elites from the problematic throng with their ‘closed’ worldview. When he says London is ‘open’, what he really means is that London is closed to those who do not worship at the same pro-EU, post-borders, hyper-green, trans-friendly church as he does.

Does London feel ‘open’ to folk who voted for Brexit, which Sadiq views as disastrous, so much so that he campaigned for a second referendum? Does it feel open to the single mum with an old car who now has to stump up £12.50 a day under Khan’s ULEZ scheme if she wants to drive her kids to school or drive for groceries? Does it feel open to people who protest against ULEZ, who were damned by Sadiq as ‘far right’? ‘Open to all who agree with me’ – that should be his slogan.

Consider a recent event in London, following eight years of Sadiq’s ‘open’ ideology. Last month, cops told a Jewish man that he was too ‘openly Jewish’ to be near a ‘pro-Palestine’ demo and he should bugger off or risk being arrested. These are the same cops who have often turned a blind eye to the Jew hate and outright Hamas love we’ve seen on those ‘pro-Palestine’ gatherings. How ‘open’ is London for Jews right now? How ‘open’ for anyone not down with high-status thought? Not very, I’d say.

Sadiq’s London is living, creaking proof of the divisiveness of woke. It shows what happens when we’re turned from citizens into racial units, when we’re viewed less as people than as pollutants, apparently requiring constant moral correction from on high. Anyone who doubts that the elites are waging a culture war, and that their culture war is really a class war in drag, should take a look at Khan’s London. The boy from Tooting drunk on ideology from California peering from his glass tower on the Thames at all the problematic plebs… vote him out, London.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


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