Is Sadiq Khan a Blairite or a Corbynite?

The mayor's mixed record may point to opportunism, or reflect an independent-minded social democrat


It’s often the case that while failure is an orphan, success has more parents than seems plausible. So it is with the historic election of Sadiq Khan as Mayor of London on Thursday, an event which made international news.

But while different wings of the Labour Party might wish to claim his victory as their own, pinning Khan down politically is more difficult than it might at first appear.

Since his election is widely being considered in terms of the future of the party, and particularly the debate over Jeremy Corbyn’s position at the helm, it might be useful to ask: is Sadiq Khan a Corbynite or a Blairite?

In a sense the terms, while ubiquitous, do not point to any clear set of ideas. A so-called Blairite might be for greater public spending or against it, for example, just as a Corbynite might differ with the man himself on Trident renewal.

There are however two common uses of the terms, one being support for Jeremy Corbyn or Tony Blair as politicians, and the other being support for a tendency within the Labour Party and the Left more generally, which might also imply certain policy positions.

On the first usage, Sadiq Khan made several public criticisms of both Tony Blair and Jeremy Corbyn during his election campaign.

These include telling the Daily Mail soon after becoming mayoral candidate that anyone hoping to be elected prime minister ought to sing the national anthem, (a direct criticism of Corbyn), and claiming he once gave Blair a dressing down for suggesting Muslim MPs have a special responsibility after the July 7 bombings to combat terrorism. (This account is disputed by one witness, but it’s a telling anecdote all the same).

One of his first acts as mayor was to write a not-very veiled attack on the direction of the party under Corbyn for the Guardian, and during the recent anti-Semitism row he went so far as to suggest the party’s leaders might need training on ‘what racism is’. So much for his support for either politician.

Turning to the more common usage – support for a tendency within Labour – Khan proves to be a hard block to fit in either shaped hole. His opposition to the Iraq war, which he flagged up during his bid for mayoral candidate, would warm the cockles of a typical Corbynite, but his voting for a no-fly-zone in Libya and airstrikes against ISIS in Iraq would turn them off.

So too with his support for Labour’s anti-terrorism legislation. Similarly, a Blairite might balk at Khan’s votes against cutting corporation tax and his vote against the Tories’ welfare bill last July.

The same goes for his mayoral election manifesto, which included plenty of neo-liberal equality-of-opportunity policies and a pledge to be ‘the most pro-business mayor in history’, along with more radical measures like support for a London Living Wage, a freeze on train and bus fares and building social housing with a Living Rent based on a third of average local incomes.

Both allies and critics of Khan have labelled him an opportunist, and a mixed bag like this might support such claims. On the other hand, he might just be an independent-minded social democrat with his own criteria for how to vote, and how to run for office.

So while neither Corbynites nor Blairites can chalk up his election to their credit exclusively, on the plus side, their desire to do so suggests there might be a winning electoral platform that both sides can support.

Adam Barnett is a staff writer for Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter @AdamBarnett13 

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9 Responses to “Is Sadiq Khan a Blairite or a Corbynite?”

  1. Vaughan West

    Nothing wrong with being an independent minded social democrat. Not entirely sure we need to label everybody in such a way, but my view is that Sadiq’s politics, if you need to fit them into a hole, are probably typical of the soft left of the 80/90s. For want of a name, if you insist, Kinnockite.

  2. Chris Reid

    Labels don’t do anybody any favours. Jeremy Corbyn was the democratically elected with 60% of the vote, I was not a supporter of Jeremy’s. However the snidey and outright spite and bile being aied at him needs astern reply to the individuals concerned and they should be called before the PLP and have the whip removed. they should be ordered to report before their CLPs under the scrutiny of a party officer and they should explain their public attacks on the leader. maybe they would face deselection. We either show a united front or keep out of public comment.

  3. Ross Armour

    Sadiq Khan is exactly the type of politician Labour needs to have at its forefront right now. Somebody who understands all views of the party and is neither Blairite nor Corbynite

  4. Martyn Wood-Bevan

    He was clearly on Ed Miliband’s side so probably a genuine “moderate” or centre-left. Not a Blairite, certainly. Paul Mason recommends that the Labour left should reach out to the centre, if not to the Neoliberal rump, who may be beyond the pale, at this stage…!

  5. Nick

    i grew up in a poor part of London in the fifties with a good mix of people the world over just like Sadiq Khan
    I have been part of the establishment all my life and have known many mp’s and lords who have in the main been dreadful’ but i suspect Sadiq Khan is like myself and independent thinker who gets the very best out of others

    i hope so

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