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World Labour Party’s Khan becomes London’s first Muslim mayor

Sadiq Khan, Britain's Labour Party candidate for Mayor of London and his wife Saadiya pose for photographers after casting their votes for the London mayoral elections at a polling station in south London Britain May 5, 2016.

Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

Sadiq Khan, the 45-year-old son of Pakistani immigrants, made history on Friday when he became the first ethnic minority – and first Muslim – to be elected mayor of London.

Mr. Khan's background made him an unlikely candidate to rise high in British politics and yet one very representative of this fast-changing metropolis.

England has long been governed by a political aristocracy, many of whom emerged from a handful of prestigious – and expensive – schools. Mr. Khan, in contrast, was the fifth of eight children. His father was a bus driver, his mother a seamstress.

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While both Boris Johnson, his predecessor as London mayor, and Zac Goldsmith, Mr. Khan's main rival in this week's election, attended the famed Eton College in Windsor (Prime Minister David Cameron is another alumnus), Mr. Khan spent his formative years at Ernest Bevin College, an inner London secondary school that, until this week, counted soccer and snooker players as its most famous graduates.

But London in 2016 is no longer in the mood to be run by "Old Etonians," as the Windsor school's graduates are known. Mr. Khan, who was the Labour Party candidate for mayor, easily bested Mr. Goldsmith, a multimillionaire and a Conservative, winning 44 per cent of the vote to Mr. Goldsmith's 35 per cent. (Mr. Goldsmith only briefly studied at Eton; he was expelled after cannabis was found in his dorm room.)

It was an impressive win over the 12-candidate field for Mr. Khan, especially given the losses Labour sustained in local and regional elections around the country as leader Jeremy Corbyn battled to stem accusations that the party was tolerant of anti-Semites.

The scandal was sparked last week when Ken Livingstone, a former London mayor and close ally of Mr. Corbyn, suggested during a radio interview that Adolf Hitler had been "supporting Zionism" by encouraging Jews to move to Israel before he "went mad and ended up killing six million Jews." Mr. Livingstone and 17 other Labour activists have since been suspended over remarks made about Jews or the state of Israel, and Labour politicians around the country complained that the affair hurt them at the ballot box.

Most notably, the party fell behind the Conservatives to an unprecedented third place in parliamentary elections in Scotland – a longtime Labour bastion where the separatist Scottish National Party won a third consecutive mandate.

However, Mr. Khan, who worked as a human rights lawyer before he entered politics, managed to separate himself from a tarnished Labour brand. His mayoral campaign traded heavily on the appeal of his back story to this ethnically mixed city, where 44 per cent of its 8.6 million residents are non-white, up from 29 per cent in 2001.

Mr. Goldsmith's campaign tried to portray Mr. Khan as having links to Islamic extremists, highlighting that Mr. Khan had occasionally shared a stage with Suliman Gani, a south London imam whom Mr. Cameron accused in Parliament of being a supporter of the Islamic State. However, the attack backfired after Mr. Gani – who denied any links to IS – said he had supported the Conservatives in the last election.

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By the end of the race, even many Conservatives were critical of Mr. Goldsmith's "dog whistle" campaign tactics.

Mr. Khan appears to have won Londoners' hearts by promising to freeze subway and bus fares for his entire four-year term, while Mr. Goldsmith came off as remote after fumbling a reporter's challenge to name the next in a list of stations on the Central Line of the London Underground, which carries four million passengers a day.

Mr. Khan – who told GQ magazine that he was "a dad, a husband, Londoner, Asian, British, Muslim" – will provide London with a radically different style than the often outlandish Mr. Johnson, who frequently made headlines with camera-friendly gaffes that ranged from running over a Japanese schoolboy during what was supposed to be a friendly game of rugby to getting himself suspended in mid-air while riding a zip line to promote London's hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Mr. Johnson gave up the mayor's job, many believe, in order to pursue his long-held ambition of succeeding Mr. Cameron as prime minister.

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