Independent Thinking

Sadiq and Zac should take a walk in Springfield Park.

1st May 2016

The weather forecast wasn't good, but the weather forecast was wrong. Today it's the 1st of May and London has been bathed in sunshine. I had planned to spend the best part of it catching up with emails and doing some of the other things that sometimes make modern life feel as if you're trying to scramble your way up an escalator that's programmed never to stop. But when I looked up from my laptop, I kept catching glimpses of a blue, blue sky and in the end, that blue sky forced me out.

Every weekend of my childhood, my father would demand silence for the man on the TV who would point at a map and tell us what to expect. If the man said "sunshine and showers", my father would nod. The showers were for the flowers. Fair enough. If the man said "steady rain", my father's face would fall. But if the man on the TV talked about blue skies, my father's face would light up. Blue skies meant that the world was OK. Blue skies couldn't be wasted because you never knew when they would be back.

So, for once I actually got on my bike and cycled to Springfield Park. Springfield Park is one of my favourite parks. It's like a normal London park at the top, but then it sweeps down to the River Lea and into marshland beyond. Near the entrance, there's a pond, with a fountain and a willow tree, and ducks. Near the pond, there are beds of spring flowers. And everywhere, there is green, green grass, and trees full of blossom and couples holding hands, and families having picnics, and children playing.

On houseboats moored on the edge of the river, young couples who had made it through winter on the water were sipping wine or beer and raising pale faces to the sun. On the tow path were groups of people on a gentle Sunday walk: middle-aged couples in anoraks, hipsters in skinny jeans, Muslim families in salwar kameez and Hasidic Jewish families, with four, five or six children in matching dresses or black suits.

I don't know if these people have been following the news. I don't know if they know that the former mayor of London has been expelled from the Labour party for comments that seem to suggest that he is anti-Semitic. I don't know if they know that one of the men who wants to be mayor has been accused of sharing platforms with terrorists, or that the other man who wants to be mayor has been accused of resorting to "dog-whistle" politics by suggesting that his rival is "dangerous". I don't know if any of those people have had the letters sent to families with Indian names, suggesting that only one of those candidates would "keep our streets safe from terrorist attacks", and that it isn't the one with the Muslim name.

And I don't know how many of those people will bother to go to the ballot box on Thursday to decide which of those men will be mayor. Or what they will feel when they put that cross in that box.

I do know that I don't really want to put a cross in a box for a member of a party that really does seem to have a problem with anti-Semitism, and also with basic economics. I know that I don't really want to put a cross in a box for the son of a billionaire who seems to have only a shaky idea of how to use the Tube. I don't think Sadiq Khan understands enough about business to run a city with one of the biggest financial centres in the world. I don't think Zac Goldsmith understands enough about the pressures facing several million people who struggle to pay their bills.

I still don't know how I'm going to vote, but I do know this. I know that I would like the people who want to be mayor of this great city, and their campaigners, and the political parties they represent, to know that this is not a contest about race and religion and that it's beneath their dignity to suggest it is. I would like them to get on a Tube, and take a bus, and go for a walk in Springfield Park on a sunny Sunday afternoon and see that we Londoners don't want to be divided because we rub along pretty damn well.

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