Sadiq Khan’s victory in the London mayoral election puts him — in theory — just two or three election cycles away from being Britain’s first non-white, Muslim prime minister. His ability to win (in contrast to the current Labour leadership generally) potentially makes him Britain’s Obama.
The chief executive of London, in many ways, is the second most powerful political office in the UK. If London were its own country — metro population of 14 million, GDP of $700 billion — it would be a formidable nation in its own right. London is 22% of UK GDP, and that makes it the financial equivalent of Turkey or Switzerland.
It is easy to see how Khan could use his term as mayor to springboard back into parliament as an MP, where he would inevitably be seen as a successor to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. After that, in the 2025 general election, Labour could go into battle with an experienced leader who has a track record of winning, if the party wants it that way.
The difference between Corbyn and Khan is that Khan’s politics are more malleable. He has both supported and then distanced himself from Corbyn. He has both snuggled up to, and later condemned, various Islamic extremists. Most importantly, he now he has a track record of winning elections that require votes from outside the Left of the Labour party (perhaps because of that malleability, rather than in spite of it).
Like US President Obama, Khan is young, telegenic, and has a great backstory: He is the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver and a seamstress, who grew up in council housing. He went to state schools, and then graduated as a lawyer from the University of North London. From there, he practiced civil rights law until he went into politics. As London’s most important VIP, he’s a living anecdote that shows anyone — regardless of class or colour — can make it in Britain if you work hard enough.
Khan is the exact opposite of Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron. A Khan v. Cameron clash would be a delicious fight between the haves and the have-nots: Cameron is the son of a wealthy stockbroker who hid his money in Panama, went to private school (Eton), and then Oxford.
OK, it’s not that simple. But that’s the great thing about the Khan story: You can read into his life narrative whatever you want. Everyone can get on the Khanwagon!
There have been many, many nearly-men (and women) who have been mooted as Britain’s first non-white prime minister (Helen Grant, Shaun Bailey, Chuka Umunna, and Sajid Javid among them).
But right now No. 10 looks well within Khan’s grasp in 2025, assuming — a big “if” — the Labour party gets out of his way. He could be our Obama.
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