Remona AlyFriday 01 July 2016 The Guardian
Sadiq Khan has been a voice of calm amid Brexitmania
What a week it has been. We’ve seen David Cameron on the verge of tears; the Labour party tottering like an acrophobic acrobat on a political tightrope; and Nigel Farage embarrass a nation with his pantomime address in the EU parliament, which had the EU health commissioner, Vytenis Andriukaitis, facepalming behind him. We know exactly how you feel, mate.
Worst of all, there have been hundreds of reported hate incidents. With each refresh of my Facebook and Twitter feed, there’s another story that makes me despair for “Great” Britain. Whether it’s an 11-year-old Polish child being told his family are vermin, or a Muslim girl in a grocery aisle hearing bellows of “Rule Britannia, now get out!”, Brexit has been hijacked as a catalyst of cold-hearted racism.
But throughout our new mayor of London has been rising above it all like a real trouper. Sadiq Khan has been doing the rounds like nobody’s business. Ever since the day we Brexited (and some Bregretted), London’s first ethnic-minority mayor, first Muslim mayor, and first son of a busdriver mayor has supped at interfaith iftars, shown solidarity at the Pride march and rallied Londoners of all backgrounds to have a zero-tolerance approach to xenophobia. The only thing he hasn’t done is kiss babies. Yet.
And to top it all, he’s been fasting for Ramadan too. Imagine what he could do with a flat white and a Danish pastry – sorry, British iced bun.
The leave campaign insisted Britain would be better off without the EU, but the emotional breakup has turned some on our little island into blubbering wrecks. I’ve heard of exit strategy plans from bright English friends who want to become economic migrants to Scotland. A brain drain would be a disaster for England. But they don’t want to stay in a place where racism seems to be getting more prevalent.
The irony of Brexit repercussions is that those good old (or new) British values we bang on about seem to be falling to pieces around our ears. Diversity, unity, respect, equality might sound like cliches on replay – but they do work for us, if we work for them.
That’s why approaches like that of Khan are so badly needed now. He’s somehow got his act together during a moment of such uncertainty, doubt and disappointment.
With Khan’s conviction, outreach and reassuring acts, such as putting the Met police on higher alert over racist attacks and telling EU citizens they are welcome in London, he has demonstrated world-class leadership that has been seriously lacking in our other political leaders. Through such acts of positive action as having the best ever diversity selfie with chief rabbi Ephraim Mirvis, archbishop Justin Welby, and a sea of smiles behind them, it sends a visionary message that celebrates “us”, and refuses to submit to prejudice and division. Of this inclusive image, Sadiq tweeted: “This is London.” And this is Britain too – if we make it so.
Of course London is different to the rest of the UK but we need to hold that principle wherever we are in the UK – that different ingredients can come together to make the perfect combination.
Once we turn on one another, we’re lost. But we’re better than this; we’ve got to be. It is time to take the lead from real leadership, and looking to Khan is the perfect place to start.