Yvette Cooper MP

Working hard for Normanton, Pontefract, Castleford & Knottingley

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Yvette's article for The Times - Zac Goldsmith’s dog-whistle is becoming a racist scream

Anyone who thought the nasty party was dead has been proved wrong by Zac Goldsmith’s desperate campaign for the London Mayoralty.

Rather than try to persuade Londoners with a positive vision, the Goldsmith campaign is increasingly resorting to disgraceful, divisive tactics as the polls show the Tories falling further behind.

With each day, the smears and innuendoes get louder. It’s no longer just Zac Goldsmith’s own leaflets, briefings and clumsy attacks.

Now the Cabinet is joining in, trying different ways to link Sadiq to Islamist extremism based on no evidence at all.

When it doesn’t work, they just become ever more shrill.

We can’t let this go by – it’s time to call it out for what it really is before it gets worse. What started as a subtle dog-whistle is becoming a full blown racist scream.

Sadiq is a mainstream British Muslim who has spent his whole life fighting extremism, and he’s paid a heavy personal price for it.

He had death threats from extremists when he voted for same sex marriage – and had to discuss police protection with his young daughters.

He had extremists come to his local Mosque to protest, telling the congregation – his friends and neighbours – that he will go to hell because he believes in democracy, as will anyone who votes for him.

But despite all that, he’s bravely put his pledge to be ‘the British Muslim who’ll take on the extremists’ at the very centre of his campaign, with real plans to take on the extremists and tackle radicalisation, showing the kind of leadership and willingness to speak out that we need.

He’s been a strong voice against antisemitism. And over many years working with him on crime and security policies, I’ve seen his determination to keep Londoners safe.

Yet that’s what makes Goldsmith’s campaign even more appalling – they aren’t just attacking Sadiq, they are trying to undermine the very values we need to defeat extremism too.

They’ve sent leaflets to British Hindus with the outrageous claim that Sadiq wants to take their family jewellery.

Other leaflets call him “dangerous” and “a radical” in the hope that if they whistle the words often enough voters will start worrying about radicalisation instead.

Michael Fallon has attacked Sadiq as a “Labour lackey” who supports extremists. And in the last few days we’ve seen Michael Gove, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson each try to link Sadiq in people’s minds with Islamist extremism in different and deeply dodgy ways.

It’s the campaigning equivalent of pointing and shouting ‘don’t vote for him, he’s a Muslim’ – a nasty approach straight from the Lynton Crosby playbook.

Plenty of sensible Tories have been appalled. Baroness Warsi tweeted: “If Sadiq Khan isn’t an acceptable enough Muslim 2 stand for London mayor, which Muslim is?”

Shazia Awan, a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate described the Tory campaign as “‘divisive’, ‘colonial’, ‘sectarian’ and the return of the ‘nasty party”.

Binita Mehta, Conservative Group Leader at Watford Council, told the Telegraph: “This reckless approach needs to be confronted before we compromise our hard work thus far to win over ‘BME’ voters”.

Meanwhile, Simon Wooley, director of the independent Operation Black Vote described Goldsmith’s campaign as “the politics of division” and scathingly added: “This is not Donald Trump land where communities are pitted one against the other for political gain. This is London where we are proud of our diversity and…. we do get on with each other”.

I am sure that London will reject Goldsmith’s divisive campaign. London’s greatest strength is the respect and tolerance diverse communities have for one another.

You just have to look at the amazing response Sadiq is receiving from London’s Jewish community to see that the politics of division are not going to work here.

But Goldsmith’s campaign could still cause long lasting damage to the fabric of London life – a generation of young ethnic minority Londoners are looking at this campaign and thinking “that could be me” if they stick their head above the parapet.

Divisive campaigning drives rifts between communities. It says that if you are a mainstream Muslim who rejects extremism and abhors violence, you are still liable to be attacked by Tories as a threat to security.

It undermines those standing up against extremism and makes it easier for extremists to spread their hatred. In short, Zac Goldsmith’s campaign isnt’t just unpleasant, it is irresponsible and dangerous.

This election is now bigger than tribal party politics. It’s about the basic decency, humanity and tolerance of our capital city.

I hope Londoners who normally vote for the Tories will reject this nasty campaign, send a message that the city is better than this, and vote for Sadiq Khan. Now more than ever we need the Mayor for all Londoners that Sadiq will be.

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