Several people since last Friday have said ‘third time lucky’ about winning the Merton and Wandsworth assembly seat – while it is true that I did stand in 2008 and 2012, luck is not why we achieved the only geographical assembly seat Labour gain in London.
The main and overriding factors were the enthusiasm of the public and party members for Sadiq’s candidacy for mayor and the mayoral campaign pledges, plus masses of sheer, unadulterated hard work across all five constituencies. I was also very keen that the campaign involved everyone, and did not become factionialised in any way – and I am pleased to say that we achieved this.
We also received fantastic support from the shadow cabinet and many members of parliaments – the list is almost too long, but special thanks must go to Heidi Alexander, Seema Malhotra, John McDonnell, Hilary Benn, Angela Eagle and Lilian Greenwood who joined us on the campaign trail and at fundraisers – plus the irrepressible Steve Pound.
The issues that came up on the doorstep were the same as everywhere else in London –housing especially was mentioned over and over again. Prices in Wandsworth especially are now utterly eye-watering – studios in the new Nine Elms development are a mere million, obviously affordable by anyone on an average London salary! So the Labour housing pledges were particularly popular – and it is now essential we get down to delivering them, which will not be quick or easy.
Sadly, the campaign was marred everywhere by the appalling tactics of the Tories – several local Conservatives contacted me privately to say how sickened they were, so they may even have depressed their own vote. Local people, who had voted for Sadiq several times since 2005 and knew him as a good local MP and an engaged local parent and resident, were outraged to receive deeply unpleasant personal letters, claiming (amongst other things) that he had snubbed the Indian prime minister and wanted to tax their gold jewellery. In addition, the ludicrous claims that Sadiq might endanger national security and regularly hung out with terrorist sympathisers, were repeated several times by Conservatives. The prime minister’s outrageous used of parliamentary privilege to smear the Conservative-supporting Imam of the Tooting Mosque, in an attempt to smear Sadiq was a low point, only equalled by Zac Goldsmith’s article in the final Mail on Sunday, illustrated by the half-destroyed bus in Russell Square from the 7/7 bombings of 2005.
It is a sad fact that the Conservatives tried to use both Sadiq’s faith and Pakistani heritage against him – and it is greatly to the credit of Londoners that this poisonous approach was decisively defeated. It is also very good for politics in general that it was so clearly a failure. I can think of nothing worse than having all our political campaigns run in this way – I do not want US-style negative campaigning and personal attacks to become the norm here. I received considerable abuse via social media as a member of Team Khan’s 25 assembly candidates, as we all did. I hope the Conservatives are now thoroughly ashamed of themselves and never go into the gutter again.
However, one week on the new assembly is taking shape, the mayor is moving ahead with early meetings, announcements and appointments. The beautiful ceremony in Southwark cathedral hopefully marks both an end to the worst aspects of the campaign, and the beginning of a productive new mayoralty for all Londoners.
Leonie Cooper is member of the London assembly for Merton and Wandsworth. She tweets @LeonieC
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