Londoners may have elected the first Muslim mayor of any major Western city Thursday, after an unusually bitter campaign in which race and religion have proven ugly flashpoints.
The race between Labour’s Sadiq Khan, son of a bus driver, and Conservative candidate Zac Goldsmith, son of a billionaire, has seen the latter accused of peddling “vile race politics” in his campaign against his rival.
Khan, a 45-year-old lawyer and member of Parliament, is the London-born son of Pakistani immigrants, and a practicing Muslim in a city where his co-religionists comprise about 12% of the population.
Elections are being held across the United Kingdom on Thursday, for mayoral positions, local council seats, and parliamentary and assembly seats in Scotland and Wales.
The results of the elections are not expected until Friday.
The campaign took a particularly vicious turn when Goldsmith, trailing his rival in polls, penned a controversial column in Britain’s Mail on Sunday newspaper on May 1.
Headlined “On Thursday, are we really going to hand the world’s greatest city to a Labour Party that thinks terrorists are its friends?” the piece ran with an image of one of London’s signature red double-decker buses that had been blown apart in the 2005 terror attacks in the British capital.
The attacks, carried out by Islamist extremists, left 52 people dead.
In the article, Goldsmith accused Khan and the leaders of the Labour Party of having, “whether intentionally or not, repeatedly legitimized those with extremist views.”
The mayoral campaign has been taking place within a wider context of an anti-Semitism scandal gripping Britain’s Labour Party, which has seen Labour MPs and councilors suspended after making or posting anti-Jewish remarks.
Critics have accused the left-wing party of being too accommodating of those with anti-Semitic and Islamist views, prompting the party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn to set up an independent inquiry into the allegations.
One of those accused of having made anti-Semitic remarks was Ken Livingstone, the last Labour figure to serve as London mayor.
British Prime Minister David Cameron joined the fray, accusing Khan in Parliament of having shared a platform with an alleged ISIS supporter from his constituency on multiple occasions.
Khan tweeted in response to the accusations: “Disappointed PM has joined Zac Goldsmith’s divisive, dog-whistling campaign. I’ve fought extremism all my life.”