The Straits Times says

London's vote for inclusiveness

London's first Muslim mayor made headlines on account of his religion and ethnicity. What will matter more, of course, are the leadership and social skills he shows in uniting the city, although he's unlikely to forget where he came from. Like United States President Barack Obama who bore the weight of African-American expectations, he will have to carefully pick the moments when he speaks up for the cause of minorities to keep faith with the many who picked him to be a "mayor for all Londoners", as he put it. By striking the right balance, he would do not just Britain but the world a service by demonstrating how identification with his moderate Islamic faith and Asian origin can sit comfortably with the other ways he sees himself: "I'm a Londoner, I'm a European, I'm British, I'm English."

That the electoral outcome represents a vote for multi-culturalism assumes importance because of the socially divisive tactics adopted by his opponent - captured pungently in a Guardian newspaper headline, "Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith's racist campaign? No chance". With the pervasive religious and racial tensions in the world, and the rise of Islamophobia in particular, it has become par for the course in many places to probe the leaning of candidates. In Britain, this was heightened by the anti-Semitic comments of a former London mayor that led to his suspension by the Labour party to which Mr Sadiq Khan also belongs. Candidates can expect to be vigorously examined in the heat of the hustings but no one should have to bear more because they cleave to a particular faith. As one British commentator asked: "If London's new mayor is the 'wrong' sort of Muslim to hold a major public office, what does the 'right' one look like?"

The inclusive approach reflected decisively in the choice of Londoners should also flow through the political choices made by Mr Khan during his mayoral term. He has pledged to deal with bread-and-butter issues, principally London's housing crisis and the cost of transportation. The city's problem is that not enough homes are being built to meet demand, leading to high prices and rents that exacerbate inequality by leaving many out in the cold. Mr Khan will require a strategy to find more land, contend with land use restrictions and lobby groups, and ensure that new homes get into the hands of Londoners in need at an affordable price. He also promised to freeze public transport fares for four years to help ordinary people, which might mean a tough balancing act if the government cuts funding for London's transport system.

Mr Khan is aware that London has a weak mayoralty, in terms of what can be spent compared to the money the city raises. Hence, it will take considerable political courage and skill for him to fulfil the inclusive promise of his historic victory.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2016, with the headline 'London's vote for inclusiveness'. Print Edition | Subscribe