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The Mayor of London Enters the Bullshit Cinematic Universe

by Alexander
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The Mayor of London Enters the Bullshit Cinematic Universe

Political violence returns to Britain, erupting from the morass of conspiracy and extremism online. The way Khan talks sometimes has something Blairishly elusive: broadcastable sound bites, return to clichés and a brilliant caution in the formulation of his answers. But as we talk about the loss of the rational center, he leans in to interrupt. “Look, I was mates with Jo Cox,” he says. “She was one of my best friends.”

In 2016, Cox – a Labor MP for the northern constituency of Batley and Spen –murdered by a white supremacist who endorsed the Great Replacement Theory. In 2021, Conservative MP David Amess was murdered by an Islamic fundamentalist who had been radicalized online. ‘I have a protection team. I experience it every day, the consequences of this, the violence,” says Khan. “What I will not allow is to be intimidated by those threats because that is what they want. They want me to be afraid.”

Khan insists he is an optimist. Despite the “hysteria” and culture wars, he believes there is still a middle ground where people can be convinced with facts, where conflicts can be resolved through discussion. Biden defeated Trump in 2020, he points out; the moderate Emmanuel Macron faced a far-right challenge from Marine Le Pen in France.

On the other hand, Islamophobic politician Geert Wilders is close to power in the Netherlands, after winning the most votes in the November elections on a nativist, anti-immigration and climate-skeptical platform. Trump is on the rise again in the US, and the British government has made clear its intention to hold a general election in 2024 a doubling down on hard-right policies.

In fact, the British government seemed to take inspiration from the ULEZ spin cycle. The Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, announced a list of ‘common sense’ policies, including rolling back a fictional ‘meat tax’ and ruling out forcing households to divide their recycling into seven bins –something that was never seriously considered. In September, Sunak announced he was “the fight against motorists slamming on the brakes” attacking speed limits and traffic calming measures, before rolling back net-zero emissions targets, including delaying a planned phase-out of sales of new diesel and petrol vehicles in the UK. In January, The guard reported that government ministers had cited City conspiracies of 15 minutes around freedom of movement when making transport policy.

Nervous of the backlash, Khan’s own Labor Party, which is likely to beat the Conservatives in this year’s general election, has set aside climate spending targets after moving away from the ULEZ policy. “The misinformation was accepted by all parties except the Green Party, and so became normalized,” says Khan. “My concern in tackling climate change, or tackling air pollution, or these kinds of green issues, is that politicians may be leaving the field because they’ve learned the wrong lessons.”

It’s hard not to interpret this as a victory for bullshit. Populist politicians have adopted the language of conspiracy: the Old Etonians and Oxbridge graduates, who make up a large part of the British ruling class, rail against elite control. In February, former minister and grandfather of the Conservative Party Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg spoke made a disapproving speech the “international cliques and quangos that tell hundreds of millions of people how to live their lives.” Former Prime Minister Liz Truss shared a stage with Steve Bannon to attack the “deep state” she says brought her down after 44 disastrous days in office. Lee Anderson – a prominent Conservative MP and deputy leader of the party until January – said in a TV interview that Islamists had “gained control of Khan and control of London.” Anderson was eventually suspended from the party.

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