Many Muslims, as well as many non-Muslims, considered Zac Goldsmith's campaign for Mayor of London to be highly inappropriate. It has been called racist. I share these concerns, and now that the campaign is over have published them.
14 May 2015
Zac Goldsmith's recent campaign as Conservative Party candidate for Mayor of London was marked by deplorable personal attacks on his Labour Party opponent Sadiq Khan. As the campaign went on, many British Muslims approached me with their concerns.
While unhappy, I resisted any temptation to comment publicly while the campaign was underway. If you have a responsible position inside a political party, it is not appropriate to make public statements during a campaign that may damage the party's electoral chances.
After the election was over, I composed a piece for the Conservative Home website, and gave it the title "Retoxifying the Conservative brand?" The website editor published the piece verbatim, but used his editorial prerogative to give it a more eye-catching title. The piece "I’m a Conservative, and voted for Zac. But I was disgusted by his repeated, risible attempts to smear Khan" can be read on the Conservative Home website, and is also reproduced below.
Mohammed Amin is Chairman of the Conservative Muslim Forum. He is writing in a personal capacity.
As it says in Ecclesiastes 3:7, there is “a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.” During the campaign for London Mayor, the media approached me many times regarding Zac Goldsmith’s comments about Sadiq Khan. I emulated a Trappist monk, but now that the election is over, I can remain silent no longer.
As a British Muslim of Pakistani ethnic origin, I was quite pleased to see Sadiq Khan win the Labour nomination for Mayoral candidate. I have also met him on many occasions, and we are both patrons of the charitable research project Curriculum for Cohesion. However, as a Conservative Party member for about 33 years, I had absolutely no doubt about wanting to get a Conservative elected as Mayor of London. In the Conservative Mayoral primary, I voted for Syed Kamall, but was happy to support any candidate chosen by the Party’s members in London.
When 2016 started, I went canvassing for Zac in January on a cold, wet morning near Gants Hill Underground, and expected to do much more of it. (I decided in 2015 that I prefer walking the pavement to telephone canvassing as it is much better exercise.) Then something changed.
With growing intensity, Zac began to paint Khan as a closet extremist. The words were always carefully chosen (sensible when dealing with a lawyer) and emphasised Khan’s alleged lack of judgment regarding who he had shared platforms with in the past. However, the underlying message was clear to me and to everyone else who heard it. We were meant to understand that Khan kept bad company with extremist Muslims and could not be trusted with the safety of London. On top of that, leaflets were targeted specifically at London Hindus and Sikhs, superficially about Khan’s tax policies, but clearly seeking to divide Londoners along religious and ethnic lines.
It was not just me reading Zac’s messages this way. Every Muslim member of the Conservative Party who has discussed the campaign with me has understood the messages in this way, as have many, probably most, non-Muslim commentators. I concluded that Zac had abandoned any attempt to appeal to Muslim voters, and was instead seeking to maximise his vote amongst non-Muslim voters by attempting to frighten them about “Khan, the alleged Muslim extremist.”
Despite all this, I voted for Zac a week or so before polling day, as I have a postal vote. I did so because I consider Khan’s policies, especially on transport, to be rubbish. I publicised how I voted, and why, on social media. However, beyond that I could not develop the motivation to do a single days campaigning for Zac after January, because I was disgusted (I considered milder words, but decided to be frank) with the tone of his campaign and his repeated, and risible, attempts to smear Sadiq Khan.
My wife, who has been a Conservative Party member for about 10 years, and attends each Party Conference with me, was if anything even more outraged. She could not bring herself to vote for Zac at all, and exercised her democratic right to vote for Khan. She did however vote Conservative for the Greater London Assembly.
I am well aware of Charlie Brown’s retort that “Losing isn’t anything.” However, the classicists in our Party will know what Pyrrhic victories are.
Since David Cameron became our Party’s leader in 2005, helped by my vote in the leadership election, he has worked very hard to detoxify our brand, from hugging a hoody to living for two days with a Muslim family to bringing in equal civil marriage. It has worked. From being regarded by many Muslims as nothing more than the party of Enoch Powell, we won the votes of 15 per cent of British Muslims in 2010, rising to 25 per cent in 2015, with the trajectory being clearly upwards.
Much of this has been imperilled by the Zac campaign and we have many elections to fight in the future more important than the London Mayoral election of 2016. If we want to avoid the likely fate of the US Republican Party, we have to appeal to Britons of all ethnicities and of all religions and none.
Fortunately, for most of the campaign the Prime Minister stayed above the attempts to smear Khan, apart from two interventions in PMQs, both of which were in my view unwise.
Ironically, in my opinion Zac’s attempts to smear Khan have probably increased our risks of suffering terrorism.
ISIS are perpetually seeking to radicalise and recruit young British Muslims to their cause. At the margin, I believe there is a risk that young impressionable British Muslims who witnessed Khan being smeared in this manner will thereby be made more vulnerable to radicalisation than they were before. I cannot quantify the scale of Zac’s impact, but have no doubts about its directionality. (Just ask yourself if you think Zac’s tactics decreased the risk of radicalisation.)
I am an inveterate optimist and see silver linings in every cloud.
If Zac had won, for the next four years of his Mayoralty it would have rankled with most British Muslims that he won by smearing an upstanding loyal British Parliamentarian who happens to be Muslim. Since Zac lost, his campaign will soon recede into oblivion, a footnote in history, rather like the Conservative campaign in Smethwick in 1964 which I am old enough to remember even though Zac and Khan were not even born then. Accordingly, the Conservative Party’s appeal to British Muslims should recover rapidly after this debacle, provided we learn from it.
The same is true of the radicalisation effect. Whatever recruitment traction ISIS could get from the Zac campaign will vanish in the warm afterglow of London, the world’s most important city, electing as Mayor a citizen who is a Muslim of Pakistani ethnicity. That would not be the case if the smear campaign had succeeded.
Finally, Khan’s victory should help to keep Jeremy Corbyn in power. Long may he continue to lead the Labour Party!
The Independent Newspaper telephoned me for an interview. They used both my comments during the interview, and extensively quoted from the Conservative Home piece in their story "Sadiq Khan says Tory smear campaign was 'straight out of the Donald Trump playbook'". With my permission they also republished the full Conservative Home piece verbatim on their website, with attribution.
The Guardian had attempted to get me to talk about the campaign for their story on 30 April "'It's ugly and dangerous': the inside story of the battle to be London mayor." Although I am quoted in that story, I made it clear that I do not comment on Conservative, or indeed other parties' campaigns. (At least not while underway.)
The Guardian quoted from my piece in their article "Top Conservatives condemn Zac Goldsmith's 'disgusting' mayoral campaign." They also quoted from it in their article "London’s new mayor shows Labour what it must do to win."
The Times telephoned me on Friday 6 May and I gave them an interview. I was quoted in their article "Khan is elected mayor amid Tory backlash at Goldsmith." My own quote is reproduced below:
Mohammed Amin, the chairman of Conservative Muslim Forum, said: “I voted for Zac but without any real enthusiasm. I felt that the campaign was divisive. Trying to paint a man with Sadiq Khan’s background as an extremist was inappropriate.”
They issued a tweet "Tory Muslim Forum Chief Slams Zac Read the full article." Unfortunately what they reproduced on their website was an abridgement, leaving text which I regarded as important, such as the very first sentence! They also did not seek my permission for reproduction.
With my permission this website has reproduced the full article with attribution as "Mohammed Amin: I’m a Tory but Zac’s attempted smears of Khan disgusted me."
I was approached by the BBC and Sky News asking if I would give an interview on camera. Having said everything I wanted in the written piece, I declined to do so. In particular, the article was carefully written, whereas it can be much harder to control the precise message during a television interview.
The campaign is now over. However not all readers will have followed the details, especially if they live outside London. Accordingly I have given just a few examples below.