There seemed to be something for every party to take away from what political pundits tried to brand Super Thursday (but which stubbornly remained simply Thursday for most people).
As the country went to the polls for the first local and mayoral elections since the General Election last year, only one result made international news: the London Mayoral election. And rightly so; after such a bitter, Islamophobic campaign from the Conservatives, the world was watching to see how London would react.
London responded by handing Khan one of the biggest personal political mandates in Europe with a resounding victory, making him an historic figure as London’s first Muslim Mayor (check out our columnist Chimene Suleyman’s brilliant analysis on that point).
But Khan wasn’t the only one to make history; the new Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees, is the first Mayor in Europe from an Afro-Caribbean background. This has special historical resonance for the UK.
His swearing-in ceremony took place at MShed, a museum on the Bristol harbour where slave ships used to dock. Bristol, like so many other British port cities (including London), built its wealth on the translatlantic slave trade – but the issue of race resonates into the present day.
The 1963 Bristol Bus Boycotts, a protest against bus companies that refused to hire Black or Asian staff, forced the companies to change their policies and the government to examine discriminatory policies, a process which culminated in the 1965 Race Relations Act, the first UK legislation to outlaw discrimination on the “grounds of colour, race, or ethnic or national origins” in public places.
Rees told the Bristol Post: “I spent the other evening with Paul Stephenson, who led the Bristol Bus Boycott, and I think one of the nicest things for me was that Paul looked at me and had a sense of pride in me.
“I take from that, that Paul sees it as a continuation of his work that he started decades ago – making Bristol a more fair and inclusive city.”
The significance of Rees’ election has to be understood through a racial lens but he’s more than a symbol; he’s a politician with lofty goals for his administration and his city. He has pledged that his Cabinet will draw on talents from across the political spectrum and have a gender balance. His manifesto promises include pledges on housing and deprivation, while he has also promised to investigate issues surrounding Bristol’s European Green Capital year.
Rees, who also ran for Mayor in 2012, is — like Khan — from a working-class background, something that he also drew attention to: “I think maybe the big hope is that I am an ordinary person and that makes it possible for other ordinary people to come forward for elected office”. BBC Bristol will broadcast a special report on his election at 8pm on Sunday.
Election Fraud: The Barking Dog in a Media Vacuum
In an unfortunate juxtaposition of events, while the election results were pouring in, Sir Lynton Crosby, the architect of the Tories’ divisive campaign style which was doing Zac Goldsmith no favours, was receiving his knighthood for “services to politics” – in other words, masterminding the campaign that brought the Tories a majority for the first time in over 20 years.
It’s a slim majority, and the Mirror suggests that just 900 people may have decided the election. Marginal seats mattered a great deal. And if you’ve been watching Channel 4, you’d be aware that Tory spending broke electoral rules. They are using the hashtag #ElectionExpenses to highlight their groundbreaking investigation
This is huge. Evidence seen by the Mirror and Channel 4 reveals that some of the money spent on a “battle bus” strategy by the Conservative Party to send activists to campaign in key marginal seats was not declared. This matters in principle, but is even more important in light of the narrow margin by which the Conservatives won the election. A narrow mandate that is being used to introduce further swingeing cuts, the likes of which are changing the shape of our public services forever.
Where is the national outcry? In Devon and Cornwall, the new Conservative Crime Commissioner Alison Hernandez is now being investigated by her own police force, accused of failing to declare spending during the General Election. Is there even a local outcry? She was also was (briefly) celebrated by Plymouth Business community on Twitter before Media Diversified pointed out that she was being investigated.
The Conservative Party claims that the amounts spent should be counted as part of the national spend, rather than coming under individual campaigns, but the Electoral Commission has applied for more time to investigate. Eight police forces are currently looking into the allegations and it is thought that up to 29 Tory MPs benefitted from battle bus funding, many of whom were contesting seats in marginal constituencies. Former co0party chairman Grant Shapps aka Michael Green is adamant that he has had NOTHING to do with any irregularities.
There have been some news reports in other outlets following the Mirror and Channel 4’s findings, but there is nowhere near the sustained media coverage that would precipitate moving this issue up the public agenda even though this is a grave matter in the public interest.
Maybe it’s time we — the public — started making it known to our local and national news outlets that not only is this issue in the public interest, it is one in which we as individuals are actually interested.
UPDATE 12.05.16 The Electoral Commission has just announced that it is applying to take the Tories to Court in relation to charges of Electoral Fraud in the 2015 General Election. There are 16 MPs being investigated by police. Whether should the Parliamentary Whip is suspended pending investigation remains to be seen.
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White Men Dancing is a weekly column. Kiri Kankhwende and Maurice Mcleod keep an eye on Westminster. Politics is too important to leave to politicians.
Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and has been a contributor to BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News. Find her on Twitter @madomasi