I've been following British politics for many years now, and it's fair to say that I have never seen a campaign more hateful, desperate, negative and divisive as that of Tory candidate for Mayor of London, Zac Goldsmith. Rather than talking about issues that matter to Londoners, Zac seems intent on attacking Sadiq Khan, Labour's candidate on the grounds of his Islamic faith.
I have listened to and watched all of the Mayoral debates, and I'm fairly sure Goldsmith brought up Khan's religion and supposed links to extremism in every single debate. He's released posters and leaflets that go into great detail about how bad Sadiq's Islamic faith is, and how Sadiq must be a terrorist. In fact, in last week's Mail on Sunday Goldsmith wrote an article entitled "On Thursday, are we really going to hand the world's greatest city to a Labour party that thinks terrorists is its friends?" along with a picture of the 7/7 attacks. Although the article focuses on the views of Jeremy Corbyn, it also heavily implies that Sadiq Khan is an extremist. And yet, Zac Goldsmith is hardly all sweetness himself - an Islamist extremist that he is very keen to associate Khan with has stated that on many occasions he shared a platform with Goldsmith too. They even had their picture taken together.
Peter Oborne, a Daily Mail columnist and staunch Conservative, has stated that he will be "proudly" voting for Sadiq Khan – and indeed voting Labour for the first time in his life. He has stated that rather than focusing on the issues, Goldsmith has "concentrated on Khan’s religion, alleging that Khan is a friend and apologist for "extremists" and cannot therefore be trusted to run a great city like London." Oborne then goes on to say that these insinuations are total rubbish, with Khan loudly espousing centre-left, moderate policies that have not exactly made him popular with local conservative Muslims - Khan himself stated during the LBC Mayoral debate that he received much abuse from his own local community after having supported gay marriage, and opposed sanctions against Israel, for example.
However, Goldsmith's divisive and borderline Islamaphobic tactics are, thankfully, hideously backfiring. A recent YouGov poll shows that 18% of Londoners say they are more likely to think that Goldsmith is "divisive" compared to 11% saying the same about Khan. When asked about the issues, the only category that Goldsmith comes first in is when people are asked which candidate will cost them more, with 18% likely to say that Goldsmith will cost them more, compared to 15% for Khan. Even on tackling Islamist extremism, Khan beats Goldsmith by a 3 point margin, showing a clear rejection of Goldsmith's abusive campaigning techniques.
But if Zac Goldsmith does find a way to win on Thursday, British politics will not be the same for another generation. With fears already running high over Islamist extremism, and a dangerously growing hatred of Muslims, I fear that a Goldsmith victory based on Islamophobic tactics will send a very bad message. I fear that a Goldsmith Mayoralty will tell Muslims they cannot be trusted to run anything because of their religion, and that they therefore must be associated with extremists. And I also fear it would send a message to those who are anti-Islam that their views are not only perfectly acceptable, but capable of helping them win elections - which, frankly is not (or at least should not be) true.
If Zac Goldsmith becomes London Mayor after one of the most divisive and negative campaigns that I (and many people a lot older than me) have ever seen, then we will be witnessing a dramatic shift right-wards in our mainstream political discourse, especially given the Prime Minister has given his backing to Goldsmith's horrific tactics during PMQs. It would be deeply damaging, not just for London, but for Britain as a whole.