The disruption of Sadiq Khan’s speech to the Fabian Society yesterday by a bunch of English nationalist Brexiteer Donald Trump fans raised a question it is difficult to answer. Which is the greater, the nastiness of those self-styled “White Pendragons” or their stupidity?
Don’t let the latter blind you to the former. They brought a DIY gallows with them and staged a feeble attempt at a citizens arrest on the Mayor inside the hall, a stunt their apparent leader, a Muslim-hating pillock from the English Defence League, tried to justify on the fantasy grounds that Khan is a friend of terrorists and in some way subverting national law.
This is laughable but also sinister, the most ostentatious revival for a while of a line of attack on Khan first put before the public eye by the Conservative Party and its resoundingly unsuccessful London Mayor candidate Zac Goldsmith in 2016.
Khan deservedly crushed Goldsmith at the ballot box, but the legacy of that Tory campaign, masterminded – if that’s the word – by Lynton Crosby’s crew, festers on in the sewers of social media.
That is the case not only in Britain but also across the Atlantic, where those slurs against Khan – initially fed through the Sunday Times and other Tory-supporting outlets and dignified by, among others, David Cameron – live on as articles of faith in the alternative universe in which the President of the United States is immersed.
So while the Fabians’ unwanted guests fully warrant ridicule, they are also a symptom of something deeper; of ugly sentiments Mayor Khan stirs among some by his very presence in public life, indeed by his very existence. They cannot be lightly dismissed.
All that said, the widespread coverage received by the antics of Trump’s UK fan club at the Fabian conference in the wake of his welcome decision not to visit our shores will have done Khan no harm in the eyes of those whose support he most desires.
They fall into two groups. One is London’s electorate at large, largely liberal, profoundly multicultural, strongly pro-Remain and therefore likely only to embrace Khan the more tightly as the antithesis of Trumpism personified following yesterday’s carry-on.
The other group is the Labour Party membership in London, which Khan and his closest advisers are said to be keeping a wary eye on. Like all Labour politicians who won elections before Momentum began winning control of the party’s institutions, the Mayor and his strategists know the dangers of getting on the wrong side of Jeremy Corbyn’s grassroots avengers, especially since last year’s general election defeat convinced so many of them that national power is within grasp.
As with Londoners at large, becoming the target of homegrown Trump chumps can only have underlined for them that as a Muslim Asian Briton Khan’s political leadership of the UK capital continues to be resented by bigots. This helps them to forget his famous “power” speech at the 2016 Labour conference and to forgive his support for Owen Smith’s unsuccessful attempt to bring Corbyn down.
For some of them, Khan will never be One Of Us, but for as long as he is hated by racist populists they will rally to his defence, making his tenure as Mayor more secure and improving his prospects for winning a second term, should he want one.
Perhaps, then, it was apt that the so-called White Pendragons turned up with a noose. They’re probably too daft to know it, but far from fomenting a lynch mob mentality towards Khan, they pretty much strung themselves up.