10.05.2016

After a divisive campaign, it’s time to heal our Capital

Congratulations to Sadiq Khan, London’s new Mayor. Elected as the first Muslim to senior political office in Europe with the biggest personal mandate in UK history. This achievement is truly remarkable. But for Londoners the aftertaste of this campaign isn’t so pleasant.

From ‘posh boy’ to ‘extremist’, accusations of racism and anti-semitism – the insults have come thick and fast over the past few months. The truth is, whether you’re a Muslim or the son of a millionaire, you should be able to find your home in London.

London is one of the most diverse cities on the planet, and people from all walks of life think of themselves as Londoners. Despite its high levels of diversity, the Social Integration Commission reported last year that London is actually less integrated than the rest of the country. Research commissioned by The Challenge earlier this year also showed lower levels of trust between Londoners from different ethnicities and income backgrounds.

A big part of the job description for London Mayor is an ability to unite Londoners. In the aftermath of such a divisive campaign, the new Mayor must start the long and arduous job of being a Mayor for all Londoners – of heading up a city which is not just diverse, but united.

Sadiq has made a great start. His multi-faith signing-in ceremony at Southwark Cathedral and a clear pledge to be a “Mayor for all Londoners” on Saturday was followed on Sunday with an appearance at a Holocaust Memorial ceremony in Barnet.

But as the dust settles on this campaign and the new mayor rolls up his sleeves and sits down at his new desk in City Hall to write his plan for the city, Londoners will want to hear loud and clear that he is committed to healing divides and bringing people together. We need commitments that go beyond photocalls and deliver real opportunities for ordinary Londoners to get to know one another.

As the UK’s leading charity working to build a more socially integrated country, our experience delivering programmes like National Citizen Service has shown us that Londoners from radically different backgrounds can form strong connections and forge shared identities. All they need is the opportunity to meet, and a chance to have a shared experience.

We are therefore calling for three commitments from the new Mayor:

  • A named Champion in City Hall responsible for integration
  • New housing must be about communities not just numbers
  • An emphasis on activities and events which bring neighbours together in good times as well as bad.

A named champion for integration: During the campaign Sadiq appeared to reject calls for a dedicated Deputy Mayor for Integration – claiming instead to see integration as a personal priority and not something he would devolve. We welcome his enthusiasm and recognise that these “Czars”, “Deputy Mayors” and “Champions” have been somewhat overdone by both Government and City Hall.

But the idea of City Hall taking a leadership role and city-wide view of how we promote integration across the Capital is still something the new Mayor should embrace. We need a clear signal that integration matters – a named Champion or Office situated within City Hall will ensure the GLA can hold Sadiq to account in the months and years to come when the divisions of this campaign fade from memory.

The Mayor’s efforts to promote social integration can’t solely focus on new migrants – but on ensuring we can all meet and mix, including and especially those who are well established in the city. Our experience has taught us that programmes to promote integration have to include everyone and not be targeted towards one group.

New housing must be about communities not just numbers: The new Mayor must ensure that building communities sits at the heart of their commitment to build new housing. London desperately needs new homes – but these must not contribute to segregation and exclusion. By ensuring our new homes are built in a way that enables us to bump into our neighbours, the Mayor can ensure new homes built next year do not become the ghettos of the next decade.

Activities and events which bring neighbours together: The new Mayor must support and enable people in local communities to get to know neighbours from different backgrounds. Often, community spirit emerges in the face of a threat, as neighbours rally round to defend their local area. But neighbours shouldn’t have to wait until disaster strikes to feel they can talk with one another. We want the new Mayor to champion socially mixed communities that thrive through shared activities – whether that’s by eating lunch together, throwing street parties, or volunteering to clear snow from an elderly neighbour’s drive.

After a fractious and divisive campaign it’s great to see Sadiq rising above the fray and celebrating the diversity and unity of London. The new Mayor of London has a tremendous opportunity – not just to strengthen London’s communities, but to be remembered as the Mayor who brought London together in the face of growing social rifts.

It’s time to move on from charges of “posh boys”, extremists and anti-semitism. It’s time to make Londoners proud of their diverse vibrant society and continue to show the world the best side of our city.

Jon Yates, Director, The Challenge