LONDON • Labour candidate Sadiq Khan was set yesterday to become the first Muslim to be elected mayor of London, loosening the ruling Conservatives' hold on Britain's financial centre after a campaign marred by charges of anti- Semitism and extremism.
His expected victory may be a lone bright spot for Labour on a day of local elections in England, Scotland and Wales.
Opinion polls suggest the main opposition party would lose seats in some of its traditional strongholds, testing the authority of its new left-wing leader, Mr Jeremy Corbyn.
In bright sunshine, Britons trickled in to voting stations to cast their ballots in the local elections which some campaigners fear could fail to attract many voters, as the contests have been overshadowed by next month's referendum on whether Britain should leave or remain in the European Union.
The fight to run London - the top prize in the local elections - pitted Labour's Mr Khan, 45, the son of an immigrant bus driver, against the Conservatives' Mr Zac Goldsmith, 41, the elite-educated son of a billionaire financier.
The winner will take over from Conservative Boris Johnson, who has run the city of 8.6 million people for the past eight years and is seen as a top contender to succeed Mr David Cameron as party leader and prime minister.
Mr Khan has a big lead in opinion polls, despite accusations by Mr Goldsmith that he has shared platforms with radical Muslim speakers and given "oxygen" to extremists.
"Yes, Goldsmith's argument on the radio made me distrust him... I am absolutely amazed how he tried to smear by innuendo," said Londoner Ian Whisson. The self-employed man described the Conservative candidate's campaign as "disgusting and slimy".
Mr Goldsmith denied the charge, saying he had raised legitimate questions about his opponent's judgment.
The results of the elections will likely set the tone for the final seven weeks of campaigning ahead of the June 23 referendum on the EU.
In the devolved Scottish Parliament, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's pro-independence party is looking to tighten its hold on power as it seeks to build support for a second vote on seceding from the United Kingdom following a failure to pass the motion in 2014.
If Britain as a whole votes to leave the EU but Scotland votes to stay in, Ms Sturgeon says that would be a pretext for her Scottish National Party to demand another independence referendum.
Results of the elections will be known today.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE