Sadiq Khan wins historic third term as London mayor

Labour’s Khan increased his margin of victory since the 2021 poll, despite a campaign by the Conservative candidate marked by ‘dog-whistle’ politics and ‘fearmongering’

MEE and agencies

Re-elected Mayor of London, Labour's Sadiq Khan speaks during the declaration for London's Mayor, at City Hall, London, 4 May 2024 (Benjamin Cremel/AFP)
Labour’s Sadiq Khan speaks during the declaration for London’s Mayor, at City Hall, London, 4 May 2024 (Benjamin Cremel/AFP)

London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan on Saturday secured a record third term, dealing the Conservatives another damaging defeat in their worst local election results in recent memory months before an expected general election.

Khan, 53, easily beat Tory challenger Susan Hall, who had been accused of running an Islamophobic campaign, to scupper largely forlorn Tory hopes that they could prise the UK capital away from Labour for the first time since 2016.

The first Muslim mayor of a western capital when first elected, he had been widely expected to win as Labour surged nationally and the Conservatives suffered in the polls.

In the end, he saw his margin of victory increase compared to the last contest in 2021. 

“It’s truly an honour to be re-elected for a third term,” Khan told supporters, accusing his Tory opponent of “fearmongering”.

“We ran a campaign that was in keeping with the spirit and values of this great city, a city that regards our diversity not as a weakness, but as an almighty strength – and one that rejects right hard-wing populism,” he added.

It adds to a dismal set of results for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, as his Tories finished a humiliating third in local council tallies after losing nearly 500 seats in voting on Thursday across England.

With Labour making huge gains, the beleaguered leader’s Conservatives lost crunch mayoral races in Manchester, Liverpool, Yorkshire as well as the capital and elsewhere.

‘Dog-whistle politics’

The mayoral campaign had been at times a bitter contest.

Conservative candidate Hall had sparked fury in October 2023 when she had suggested that some Jewish people in London were “frightened” by the “divisive” Khan.

Speaking at a fringe event hosted by Conservative Friends of Israel, she asked for activists’ support in defeating Khan.

The Tory candidate said: “I live in north London and I know the wealth and joy of the [Jewish] community. But I tell you something else, I know how frightened some of the community is because of the divisive attitudes of Sadiq Khan.

“One of the most important things we can do when I become mayor of London is make it safer for everybody, but particularly for our Jewish community, so I will ask for as much help as I can in London because we need to defeat him, particularly for our Jewish community.”

The Jewish Labour Movement said in response to Hall’s remarks: “This is dog-whistle politics from the Conservative candidate. Sadiq has a record to be proud of in standing up for Jewish Londoners, and Londoners of all backgrounds.”

The Muslim Council of Britain had responded: “Her selection highlights the systemic and persistent nature of Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and that the Singh Review has done little to address it. As such, we once again call on the EHRC to open an investigation into Islamophobia in the Conservative Party.

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In February of this year, Tory MP Lee Anderson, the former party vice-chairman, was stripped of the Conservative whip for saying that Khan had “given our capital city away to his mates”.

“I don’t actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan, and they’ve got control of London,” he had told GB News.

In the 2016 London mayoral race, Khan had faced what was widely perceived to be an Islamophobic campaign by the Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, with Goldsmith attempting to link Khan to alleged Islamist extremists with whom he had shared a platform while working as a human rights lawyer.

In October 2023, Khan joined a chorus of voices from the Labour Party backing calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, in defiance of Labour leader Keir Starmer.

“It would stop the killing and allow vital aid supplies to reach those who need it in Gaza. It would also allow the international community more time to prevent a protracted conflict in the region and further devastating loss of life,” he said in a video posted on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Khan added that while Israel “has a right to defend itself” and to target Hamas, it did not have a right to break international law.

And last month, after seven foreign aid workers had been killed by Israeli air strikes, Khan said that the UK government should pause all British sales of weapons to Israel.

Humble roots

Khan now overtakes his predecessor Boris Johnson as the longest-serving holder of the post, which notably has powers over the emergency services, transport and planning in the city of nearly nine million.

“It’s the honour of my life to serve the city that I love and I’m beyond humbled right now,” he told supporters on Saturday, adding that he wanted “to repay the trust you’ve placed in me” and deliver a “fairer, safer and greener” capital.

Victory continued a remarkable journey for the Pakistani immigrant bus driver’s son.

‘It’s the honour of my life to serve the city that I love and I’m beyond humbled right now’

– London Mayor Sadiq Khan

As mayor, he has made a name for himself as a vocal critic of Brexit and successive Conservative prime ministers, including Johnson, as well as for a feud with former US president Donald Trump.

The pair became embroiled in an extraordinary war of words after Khan criticised Trump’s travel ban on people from certain Muslim countries.

Trump then accused Khan of doing a “very bad job on terrorism” and called him a “stone-cold loser” and a “national disgrace”.

Trump claimed immigrants were behind crime and deadly attacks across Europe and, although municipalities do not control immigration policy, the US president pointed the finger at Khan.

Speaking on the BBC’s Today programme, Khan said such deadly attacks were a global problem, with people dying across Europe. “What is interesting is Trump is not criticising mayors of those cities but he is criticising me,” he said.

The mayor said Trump’s remarks blaming immigration for crime in England were “preposterous”.

“There has been an increase in violent crime across England and Wales… it’s gone up by more than 20 per cent… and by four per cent in London… We must deal with the causes but also enforcement and where we have lost £7m in our budget in London I have invested £4m… [but] the idea to blame immigration from Africa is preposterous and we should call him out when does,” Khan said.

The mayor allowed an infamous blimp of Trump dressed as a baby in a nappy to fly above protests in Parliament Square during his 2018 visit to Britain.

“He once called me a stone-cold loser. Only one of us is a loser, and it’s not me,” Khan told AFP during his 2021 campaign.

Death threats

Born in London in 1970 to parents who had recently arrived from Pakistan, Khan was the fifth child out of seven brothers and one sister.

He grew up on a council estate in Tooting, an ethnically mixed residential area in south London, and slept in a bunk bed until he was 24.

His modest background plays well in a city that is proud of its diversity and loves a self-made success story.

Khan still regularly recalls how his father drove one of London’s famous red buses, and his mother was a seamstress.

He is a handy boxer, having learnt the sport to defend himself in the streets against those who hurled racist abuse at him, and two of his brothers are boxing coaches.

He initially wanted to become a dentist, but a teacher spotted his gift for verbal sparring and directed him towards law.

He gained a law degree from the University of North London and started out as a trainee lawyer in 1994 at the Christian Fisher legal firm, where he was eventually made a partner.

Khan still regularly recalls how his father drove one of London’s famous red buses, and his mother was a seamstress

He specialised in human rights, and spent three years chairing the civil liberties campaign group Liberty.

He represented Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam movement, and Babar Ahmad, a mosque acquaintance who was jailed in the United States after admitting to providing support to the Taliban authorities in Afghanistan.

Khan joined the Labour Party aged 15 when Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was in her pomp.

He became a local councillor for Tooting in the Conservative-dominated Wandsworth local borough in 1994, and its member of parliament in 2005.

He still lives in the area with his lawyer wife, Saadiya, and their two teenage daughters.

Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown made him communities minister in 2008 and he later served as transport minister, becoming the first Muslim minister to attend cabinet meetings.

In parliament, he voted for gay marriage – which earned him death threats.

He is London’s third mayor after Labour’s Ken Livingstone (2000-2008) and Johnson (2008-2016), with widespread speculation he could eventually try to follow his predecessor and become prime minister.

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