Political variations on a theme by Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan’s endorsment of Owen Smith in The Observer today was - well, it was a pleasure to read.

It’s not strictly a political thing: Khan’s position in the Labour leadership contest was quite obvious1, and I don’t know how many votes it will swing2.

It’s an intellectual pleasure. Yes, I know: “Nice privilege, talking about intellectual pleasure when people on benefit are starving!”

I could reply that if you campaign for Corbyn you usually have the privilege not to worry about Brexit as much as - say - an average European trying to make a life for themselves in the UK.

I could also say that it’s a political pleasure, if by political you mean something that goes beyond who gets the votes this time. Sadiq Khan’s article is a point for grownup politics: it assumes that you’re not afraid of politeness and you’re able to read between the lines. Politics - effective politics - is a grownup thing, or at least it should be. The alternative to growing up is shouting that we want a wall to keep those other people away from our purity, or saying that Britain has had enough of experts.

Of course, politeness doesn’t mean nice. It’s politics. You fight. You make alliances. You want to win3. As long as you write between those lines, almost anything goes.

And yes, that reading between the lines is one of my greatest sheer intellectual pleasures. So I thought about writing a translation of those silent words between the lines. Take it as a little game to keep my mind awake. Take it as an exercise to improve my English because I need to apply for naturalisation as soon as possible, after few people thought that Brexit wasn’t as dangerous as - say - Jewish domination of world media.4

So, here it is: an exercise in translation from polite politics.

We cannot win with Jeremy… so I will vote for Owen Smith - by Sadiq Khan

(From The Observer, Sunday 21st August 2016.)

I’ve thought hard about my role in the Labour leadership election. I considered staying neutral because, as mayor,

I’m the mayor of London. I know something about winning elections that matter.

I need to work with everyone to get the best deal for London.

I work with people that disgaree with me. I’m a responsible grownup.

But I’ve been asked how I’ll vote by many of the Labour members and supporters who helped me throughout my campaign, and they deserve an answer.

This situation is embarrassing. It’s like when your ex marries that guy you always hated, and invites you to the party. You do it anyway, if you’re a grownup.

I played no part in the Labour turmoil earlier this summer.

I stay out of pissing matches.

I’ve had the honour of being elected as a Labour councillor, MP and mayor,

I already know I win. People love me for that.

thanks to the hard work of Labour members,

Corbyn doesn’t have an exclusive on the base.

and I believe that the will of our membership should be respected. I value loyalty, and believe that internal disagreements shouldn’t be voiced in the media

See, I really wanted to stay out of this.

– because divided parties lose elections.

But let’s talk about winning. I like to win, and you should like it too.

But there is now an open and democratic contest for the leadership, and Labour members deserve to know how I intend to vote.

Incidentally, have you seen the crowds cheering me on the new Night Tube two days ago?

Jeremy Corbyn is a principled Labour man. I’ve been disturbed by the nasty abuse that has been hurled in all directions over the last 12 months. There should be no place for this in our party.

And Brutus is an honourable man.

I nominated Jeremy for leader last year – but did not vote for him – and I do not regret nominating him because party members deserved that choice. His campaign last summer was a breath of fresh air and offered hope to many.

It’s not you, it’s me. It’s been nice. No, I never faked.

I have little time for those who say that Jeremy is only leader because of “entryism”.

Of course entryism helped a lot, but let’s face it: the party was totally screwed up.

It is undoubtedly a good thing that our party membership is growing. Vibrant political parties are vital to the health of our democracy.

Come and join Labour. Do it now, so you can say that you knew the drummer when they weren’t cool yet.

Our new members, like all of us, are desperate for a Labour government to make Britain fairer.

We all want a strong Labour, don’t we? Just ask Jeremy… Hi, Jeremy! We were just talking about you… all good things…

And that is why I have decided to vote for Owen Smith – because Labour party members, and the British people, need Labour to win the next general election.

…must come to an end. Bye, Jeremy.

By every available measure,

In the real world, not in The Canary.

if Jeremy remains as leader, Labour is extremely unlikely to win the next general election.

I didn’t say impossible, I said extremely unlikely. If a Corbyn Labour wins, congratulations for fighting against the odds, and they shouldn’t kick me out.

The hopes of the members who have joined our party would be dashed again.

You’re hurting the children, Jeremy. Do it for the children.

Jeremy has already proved that he is unable to organise an effective team,

The MPs really hate him. It’s not so much that he’s evil, it’s that he’s incompetent.

and has failed to win the trust and respect of the British people.

He managed to unite London and the countryside. Too bad they’re united against him.

We need to be honest and recognise that means it will be more likely that the NHS will come under even greater attack from the Tories.

You don’t want him if you’re an old lady with a bad hip.

More likely that we will see even deeper Tory cuts.

You don’t want him if you’re on benefits.

More likely that our industrial heartlands will continue to decline, and that zero-hours contracts and job insecurity will become the norm.

You don’t want him if you’re proud of your work ethic.

Because the Tories will stay in power, and Labour will stay in opposition.

If we lose, we were asking for it.

Jeremy’s personal ratings are the worst of any opposition leader on record – and the Labour party is suffering badly as a result. He has lost the confidence of more than 80% of Labour’s MPs in parliament – and I am afraid we simply cannot afford to go on like this.

Don’t you think he looks tired?

This failure was most starkly demonstrated in a heartbreaking way throughout the EU referendum.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room.

Like most Labour activists,

I’ve worked with the base while Corbyn was playing with his fanclub.

I campaigned hard for Britain to stay in the EU.

Emphasis on work.

Campaigners told me

Emphasis on the base

that Jeremy was failing to persuade Labour supporters outside London, so I went to campaign in Manchester, Leeds and Bradford.

This goes on my resume when I apply as next Labour leader, section I’m not good only with posh Londoners.

I was devastated by the result,

You really screwed up, Jeremy.

and have spent every minute of the last two months trying to salvage the best possible outcome for London

I’m becoming an icon by saving London from you

and our country –

while keeping my eyes on Number 10.

and reassuring EU citizens already living in Britain that they will remain welcome.

I’m trying to convince the people who manage the real money not to move everything to Frankfurt. I’m exhausted.

And here’s the section I’m good at foreign politics and I know how to manage the economy of a country of my resume.

Throughout the campaign and aftermath, Jeremy failed to show

I can’t say “failed to show up”… last-second switch!

the leadership we desperately needed.

I know how to do politics anywhere from Peckham to Manhattan, he can barely chew gum and walk at the same time.

His position on EU membership was never clear – and voters didn’t believe him.

Maybe he’s incompetent, maybe Russia Today pays really well, maybe both.

A third of Labour voters said they didn’t know where the party stood on the referendum just a week before polling day.

He can deal only with his fanclub.

And you can’t just blame a “hostile media” and let Jeremy and his team off the hook.

He’s a whiner.

I know from my own election

I’m a winner.

– up against a nasty and divisive Tory campaign

Mention Islamophobia, I dare you.

– that, if we are strong and clear enough in our convictions,

I’m principled too.

the message will get through to the public.

And if media attack me I don’t run home crying.

That’s a test that Jeremy totally failed in the EU referendum.

Do you want us to believe that you wanted Remain to win?

Why would things be different in a general election?

Be careful what you wish for.

To make matters worse, the next day I was astonished to see Jeremy on television calling for the government to immediately invoke article 50 and take Britain out of the EU.

How’s Vladimir Putin, Jeremy?

This would be devastating. It would cause economic chaos, a huge increase in unemployment, and would really hurt the most vulnerable people

You can be patriotic from the left too.

– as well as cause EU citizens in Britain terrible uncertainty over their future.

If you vote for Corbyn, don’t cry over post-Brexit racism.

I served with Owen Smith in the shadow cabinet and he has the strongest Labour values.

I know you will say that Owen and I are Tories anyway, but here’s the obligatory disclaimer.

We were both politicised in the 1980s.

I’ve been playing this game for a long time.

Throughout that decade an ineffective and split Labour party allowed a Tory government to do untold damage to our country.

Do we have to go through a second Thatcher?

On the big issues Owen and I have been on the same side of the argument, including opposing the Iraq war.

Your Chilcot Report is not valid.

Owen led and – more importantly – won

I’m good at backing people who get things done.

our fight against the Tories’ unfair cuts to tax credits and disability allowances, which would have hurt the most disadvantaged people in our society.

And I care for the people that might vote Labour.

And poll after poll shows that Owen is far more popular with the public than Jeremy – and far more likely to win the next election.

You know, votes, those things we need to win the general elections.

Simply opposing Tory policies will never be enough to help the people we exist to support. At best, you knock just the very sharpest edges off the Tory project. Winning elections is how you really make a difference. Only then are you in control – able to shape the agenda and implement Labour policies

You know, elections, those things that allow us to get things done.

to create a fairer and more equal society.

Thanks for the prompt, Jeremy.

If we give up on winning, we give up on the very people who need us the most.

Now get out. Do it for the good of the proletariat, if you wish.

On 24 September, no matter who wins the leadership contest, the Labour party must ultimately unite again, oppose this new Tory government and provide a vision to the British public of how a Labour government would improve their lives.

If Jeremy wins anyway, we’ll bide our time until we have a chance to win a general election again. We might start by fighting the Tories and not each other.

Talk of a split or a new party is deeply irresponsible and would make it easier for the Tories to win again.

If there’s a split, it wasn’t me.

We can’t afford to spend another moment fighting each other.

I’m a reasonable person.

We need to put all our efforts into fighting for a Labour government at the next election, and I believe that Owen Smith is the best person to lead that fight.

And that’s why I’d like my party to win.


Please feel free to let me know if there’s anything I got wrong or I missed. After all, I’m just an European.

  1. During the mayoral campaign, he almost had more photoshoots with his rival than with the leader of his party. 

  2. I’d love every Labour member to follow Khan with the fiery passion that a SWP member shows for Jeremy, but that’s another matter. 

  3. i.e., getting to a place where you can do things; not just that slightly onanistic feeling of moral high ground. 

  4. Take a look at Khan’s Twitter feed, and thank Whoever-You-Believe-In that he’s not a woman. 

By @Marta Maria Casetti in
Tags : #words, #uk, #sadiq khan, #jeremy corbyn, #brexit, #politics, #life of yours truly,