Sadiq Khan thinks knife crime is a joke

The right-on and well-off mock and dismiss those who are concerned about violence on London's streets.

Ike Ijeh

Topics Politics UK

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The old Latin invocation to not speak ill of the dead is one of the oldest and most famous aphorisms in Western culture. But in London, in 2024, it has become increasingly acceptable among certain circles to mockingly dismiss and ignore the dead. Spiralling violent crime has become an unlikely source of amusement for not only London’s newly re-elected mayor, Labour’s Sadiq Khan, but also for many of his elite endorsers.

One of the grim highlights in an otherwise lacklustre mayoral campaign was Khan mocking Tory candidate Susan Hall for addressing Londoners’ growing fears about knife crime – particularly those involving large-bladed weapons like machetes. In a radio debate, Khan famously dismissed these concerns, suggesting that Hall should stop watching the iconic Noughties US crime drama, The Wire.

Just a week later, 14-year-old schoolboy Daniel Anjorin was murdered with a large-bladed weapon – precisely the kind of crime Khan pretended was confined to the world of American crime fiction.

Two days after the mayoral election, and just hours before London’s knife-crime epidemic claimed its 25th life this year (Anjorin was the 24th), Financial Times chief features writer Henry Mance joined in the chuckling. Posting on X, Mance sarcastically congratulated London’s election volunteers for managing to count ballots while dodging ‘the capital’s widespread looting, gun battles and tank warfare’.

The day before Mance’s tweet, a young man was apprehended with a large machete at West Ham Tube station in east London. Just a few days later, a 66-year-old grandmother was stabbed to death in broad daylight in Edgware, north London, becoming London’s 26th victim this year.

Sarcastic dismissal of London’s violent-crime problem is apparently a rich seam of middle-class, metropolitan humour. We saw this in full force in response to the Tories’ now infamous mayoral campaign video, released back in March. The video, among other sins, used footage from New York of a crowd panicking at the sound of gunfire, as if to imply the scenes took place in London.

The smart set rushed to make fun of the mistake, as well as the Tories’ apparent hysteria about crime in London. Writer and broadcaster Bonnie Greer said the only threats she could see from her home in Soho were dancing Hare Krishnas and selfie-taking Italians. Lib Dem peer Baroness Ludford chimed in to bemoan the ‘utter hell’ of being repeatedly offered a seat on the Tube. Children’s author Gareth P Jones described a London ‘hellscape’ of neighbours ringing doorbells to ask to borrow rosemary and open jars of Calpol.

The day after the Tories released their much-mocked campaign video, horrific footage emerged of a teenager repeatedly stabbing another passenger with a large knife on a south London train.

Why does such a devastating social problem appear to inspire such mirth among certain kinds of people? There are a number of depressing reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is class. It is no coincidence that those most keen to minimise crime tend to come from the metropolitan enclaves least affected by it. Crime falls into the long list of primordial social punishments liberals believe the working classes have brought upon themselves.

Then there is the cult of personality Khan has carefully constructed around himself. He has truly mastered the art of disingenuous distraction. He bemoans Brexit while the City booms. He praises diversity while sowing division. His latest mayoral victory shows his success at applying this strategy to crime. In 2015, before he became mayor, he committed himself to doing ‘everything in his power’ to cut stop-and-search, despite it being a vital police tool against street crime. Then, in 2017, he boasted that London was ‘the safest global city in the world’. London’s murder rate would go on to surpass New York’s just a year later. He repeated the boast in March this year, ignoring the fact that London’s murder rate is still four times higher than Tokyo’s. Even now, with knife crime surging by 21 per cent last year, Khan’s supporters continue to ridicule those who take the issue seriously.

The third reason why these people don’t take violent crime seriously is the most sensitive: race. A disproportionate amount of both violent-crime victims and perpetrators in London are black. While this is obviously not a racial characteristic (knife-toting youths are rarer in Rwanda than Britain), it is very much a London social problem. But the hierarchy of victimhood that identity politics uses to dispense moral blame simply cannot register the social problems of non-whites – unless they’re exclusively depicted as victims. So rather than have uncomfortable discussions about what is going on, the data on knife crime are rejected as flawed or racist. It is easier to laugh about Tories becoming hysterical over imaginary ‘gun warfare’ than to peer under the multicultural comfort blanket and see who’s pulling the trigger.

Uncomfortable as that conversation may be, it is no excuse to trivialise the torrential human suffering of victims – many of whom are young and black themselves. Violent crime is not a joke. Sadiq Khan and his ilk show their inhumanity by treating it like one.

Ike Ijeh is an architect, critic and writer living in London. Follow him on Twitter: @ikeijeh

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK


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