London is set to elect Sadiq Khan to be its first Muslim mayor today, a significant victory in the context of Islamophobic politics taking hold in some other parts of Europe (and the U.S.) recently.
While the final votes are still being tallied, local news outlets and the leader of Khan's political party claimed victory for him this afternoon, having claimed more than 44% of the vote as of this afternoon according to the BBC, with his closest rival Zac Goldsmith at 35%. Khan needs 50% of the vote to win.
Here's what you need to know about Khan and his rise:
He is the child of immigrants
During his campaign, he spoke about his family's immigrant story: his parents moved to England from Pakistan along with many others in the 1960s. Khan was born in London, where his father worked as a bus driver on the city's south side. The family lived in pubic housing for part of Khan's childhood. He ran on a liberal platform focusing on building more affordable housing in London, where despite being one of Europe's economic powerhouses, has serious income disparities which are only growing wider.
Police reform is one of his top issues
He was a human rights lawyer in his life before politics, focusing on cases of employment discrimination and police brutality. That's something that will likely influence how he deals with law enforcement policies as mayor.
People of color in London, like in many American cities, are disproportionately subjected to stop and frisk. The number of people dying in police custody is also on the rise in London. Khan said in July of last year that he would require affirmative action programs to hire more people of color to the city's police force, and that if that did not work, he said he would be willing to put in place a quota system to make the police force more representative of the people it serves.
“Without significant improvement in recruiting more officers from the communities it serves, the Metropolitan Police cannot and will not do its job properly," he told The Independent.
He represents an increasingly diverse London
He's talked openly about Islamophobia and his belief that London can be an inclusive picture of multiculturalism at its best (one of his first government posts before running for mayor was as Minister for Community Cohesion in London). Electing a Muslim mayor, he told the Guardian in an interview last year, will send a message to extremists but also to the rest of the world about London's confidence in that diversity:
The idea that the mayor of London could be son of an immigrant, son of a bus driver, ethnic minority – and by the way, of Islamic faith – would speak volumes, particularly when you bear in mind 10 years ago these four men wanted to destroy our way of life.
What sort of message would it send if Londoners had the confidence, tolerance and respect to vote for someone of a different faith [from most of them]? I’m a Londoner first and foremost, but it would show the haters in Iraq and the haters in Syria what sort of country we are: a beacon. And I think the reality is sometimes you need cool, calm voices, which is what I’d hope to provide.
That's a theme that probably resonated with many in a city that is stunningly diverse. More than 40% of Londoners are not white, according to the latest figures from the 2011 census, and some 13% of of the population identified as Asian or British Asian. And in terms of religious diversity, 12.4% of Londoners were Muslim.
For some Londoners watching today's election, the rise of a British Asian man to a position of global visibility and clout has been an emotional moment:
He wants London to run on clean energy by the year 2050
While campaigning, Khan said he would drastically cut London's carbon emissions, committing to the ambitious goal of having the city run on 100% "clean" energy by 2050.
Khan said: “Yes to 100% London. If it’s good enough for Sydney and Copenhagen and New York, why not London? We’ve fallen behind in our 2025 target … I want to be the greenest mayor London’s ever had.”
That follows reports that London is falling behind in its carbon emissions targets. To make progress on those targets, Khan has said he'll reduce the number of highly polluting vehicles being driven in central London, improve the energy efficiency of London's public transport system (partly by investing in electric or hydrogen-run buses), and plant two million trees in the city by 2020.
He's against Britain leaving the European Union
On June 23, the British people will vote in a referendum on whether or not to leave the European Union. As mayor of Britain's largest and most powerful city, Khan's position on the "Brexit" poll could be influential. He's said he's firmly against Britain leaving the E.U. because it could have negative effects on London's economy, with shrinking real estate investment and trade.
"Half a million jobs in London directly depend on Europe," he wrote in an op-ed for The Standard. "As a city we export more than £12 billion a year to Europe, and London is home to the European HQ of 60 per cent of the world’s non-European global businesses. Access to EU markets is crucial to the success of the City of London. That’s why the prospect of Britain leaving Europe is so catastrophic."
Part of that position, the Financial Times pointed out, could be that London's population also includes many E.U. citizens from other countries who can't vote in the referendum but can make their voice heard to an extent by voting for a pro-E.U. mayor. There were 840,000 Londoners who were born in other E.U. countries, the F.T. reported.
He's a feminist
Khan, a father of two teenage girls, has promised to target the gender wage gap in London, starting with a public gender wage audit of City Hall. In March, he gave a speech referring to his mother working as a tailor while he was growing up, earning 50 pence (around 70 U.S. cents) for each dress she painstakingly sewed.
“It is unacceptable that in London, one of the world’s greatest and most progressive cities, someone’s pay, career prospects and their safety are still dependent on their gender," he said. “My amazing mum sewed clothes for 50 pence a dress to bring in extra money for our family. It was low paid, insecure and difficult work. I want my daughters – and all women in London – to have a better future, and not to have to make the same sacrifices that my mum made for us."
He also said he would have more police officers patrolling public transport at night as a measure against sexual assault.
This post will be updated as final results are announced in the election.