NEWS
13/07/2018 11:46 SAST

Sadiq Khan: The Man Who Curtailed Trump’s Big Visit To London

The Mayor of London was recently asked what he would do were Donald Trump to visit his city.

The Mayor of London was recently asked what he would do were Donald Trump to visit his city.

Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to lead not just the UK capital but any major western national capital city, would have been forgiven for a dismissive reply.

He has been the target of belligerent, racism-tinged tweets from the US President numerous times since winning City Hall in 2016 with an astounding 1.3 million votes, the largest personal mandate in British political history.

But instead, the former human rights lawyer, who as the leader of a city plagued by knife crime is not without his critics, answered with a classy response that typified his ongoing feud with Trump.

"I'd take him to the most diverse parts of London, where you can be who you are and be not just tolerated but respected, celebrated and embraced," he said.

Trump has finally secured the trip to Great Britain he has longed for, which will include tea with the Queen, a military parade and a press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May.

But it's not the state visit Trump wanted or that May promised on her visit to Washington in 2017. There will be no carriage ride with the Queen, an honour bestowed on the likes of Vladimir Putin and George W Bush. No visit to Buckingham Palace or even a trip to May's official 10 Downing Street London residence. And no photo ops in front of the numerous famous landmarks that dominate London.

I'd take [Trump] to the most diverse parts of London, where you can be who you are and be not just tolerated but respected, celebrated and embraced London Mayor, Sadiq Khan

The mood in Khan's city is illustrated by the advice of the president's own embassy in London, which has warned US citizens to keep a low profile during Trump's visit in case protests against him turn violent.

In fact, the remarkably low-key visit will be conducted almost entirely behind closed doors, and notably sees the Commander in Chief almost completely avoid central London, doubtless for fear of encountering some 50,000 protesters and a giant orange 'Trump baby' balloon floating over Westminster.

Trump's reluctance to venture onto his patch could at the most be seen as a victory for Khan, or at the very least, a decision that likely suits the 47-year-old just fine.

London's Mayor has the potential, and ambition, to be prime minister one day, but carving a path to Downing Street is a tough gig for centre-left politicians like Khan when his Labour Party is being transformed by leader Jeremy Corbyn into a more radical, leftist movement.

Retaining a high-profile persona is key and clashes with the most-powerful (and, for many, most-hated) figure in the world do Brand Khan no harm. It's a stunning contrast between the two men that while Trump was demonising immigrants and calling Mexicans "rapists" during his campaign, Khan on the other hand, never missed an opportunity to remind voters that he was the son of a Pakistani bus driver.

His ascent to such a coveted role, held during the London 2012 Olympics by Brexit champion and Trump ally Boris Johnson, by no means felt irresistible when Khan was a Labour MP for London's Tooting electorate in 2005.

When Labour failed to hang on to power in the 2010 General Election, Khan's career was left languishing on the opposition benches and when he sought his party's London mayoral candidacy, he was seen as an outside bet next to the highly-respected Olympics bidder Tessa Jowell.

Evening Stanard
An article in London's Evening Standard newspaper in which Zac Goldsmith accused Sadiq Khan of 'giving platform and oxygen' to extremists.

After winning the Labour nomination, his opponent for City Hall, Zac Goldsmith, a millionaire Conservative and close ally of the then-Prime Minister David Cameron, incorrectly calculated that a portion of Londoners would recoil from placing a Muslim in high office, and attempted to smear Khan with now-discredited claims he sympathised with Islamist extremists.

Far from hitting a target, the dirty tricks worked in Khan's favour, and played a part in him recording a commanding victory against the odds.

The candidate for Britain First, an openly racist group which Trump would later attract widespread condemnation for appearing to support in a series of re-tweets, turned his back on Khan when the result was announced.

HuffPost UK
Britain First leader Paul Golding turns his back on Sadiq Khan during the mayor's victory speech while defeated Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith watches on.

But Khan's 2016 election win cannot be said to have heralded a period of great and positive change for London.

Barely a month later, the UK voted to leave the European Union and within little more than a year the capital would be hit with two devastating terror attacks and the Grenfell Tower fire, which left 72 people dead.

It was during this tumultuous period that the mayor first locked horns with Trump. The first incident came after the Westminster Bridge attack, which claimed the lives of six people when a terrorist drove into pedestrians and stabbed an unarmed police officer to death.

The President used the tragedy to promote his proposed travel ban for predominantly-Muslim countries.

"We need to be smart, vigilant and tough," Trump tweeted. "We need the courts to give us back our rights. We need the Travel Ban as an extra level of safety!"

In the following weeks, Khan responded.

Then came the London Bridge attack, when Islamist terrorists killed eight people and injured dozens more.

Trump responded by lashing out the mayor for trying to be "politically correct" rather than taking firm action.

In response to the fresh claims, a spokesman for Sadiq Khan said the mayor had "more important things to do than respond to Donald Trump's ill-informed tweet that deliberately takes out of context his remarks".

This was a response Trump regarded as "pathetic".

Tensions flared again between Trump and many high-profile UK politicians, when Trump shockingly shared three anti-Muslim videos from extremist group Britain First.

Twitter
One of the unverified videos re-tweeted by Donald Trump from Britain First Deputy Leader Jayda Fransen, who has since been banned from Twitter.

The President later said he was "prepared to apologise" for the posts, which made several fake and highly divisive claims about Muslims.

The Mayor was among the first to respond:

It has also established a dynamic between the two men, so when Trump's policy of separating children from their parents at the Mexican border, Khan was among the first to call out the President.

The President is not the only high-profile figure to lay into the Mayor over events in the capital.

When London's murder rate outstripped that of New York in the spring, TV presenter Piers Morgan was among those to call out Khan for his failure to give a public statement on a particularly bloody bank holiday earlier this year.

When he did face the cameras to answer questions, Khan sought to deflect by blaming central Government cuts to policing - something which has jarred with victims' relatives - although he has recently announced a series of measures to increase police funding.

Others feel his response to the housing crisis - the chronic shortage of decent homes was symbolically underlined by the totemic Grenfell Tower fire tragedy - has fallen short of the radical change needed.

Khan - who reportedly pens some of his own press releases - attracted many striving families with promises on housing, including a commitment to support housing associations to build "a minimum" of 80,000 new social homes a year.

But halfway through his term, with demand sky-rocketing, Khan has been criticised for slow progress in building homes for social rent. In 2017-18, work began on 12,500 new "affordable" homes, while the mayor this year also launched a scheme to build 10,000 new council homes in the capital by 2022.

Khan pledged to freeze public transport fares and invest in Transport for London infrastructure, but congestion levels are up - spelling trouble for other grand pledges on cutting air pollution - and improvement plans are behind schedule.

This has not gone unnoticed. A poll in May recorded a 9% drop in his popularity.

But the perception of Khan as a liberal pro-European - the vote to stay in the EU was as high as 70% in some parts of the city - is his biggest asset.

And with Khan and Trump both indicating they are likely to stand for re-election, the story of the two men is far from reaching its end.

Clarifications: This article has been updated to provide additional details regarding Khan's promises on housing and his response to police budget cuts.