Recent opinion polls had shown Labour candidate Sadiq Khan leading in Thursday’s London mayoral election, but he admitted on Sunday that last week’s anti-Semitism row in the party would put off tens of thousands of Jewish voters in the capital.
Labour is widely expected to fare poorly in Thursday’s elections to local councils and to the Scottish parliament and assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland, but the expected victory in the London mayoral poll would be seen as an endorsement of the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
But last week’s remarks by party MP Naz Shah and senior leader Ken Livingstone threw the party in turmoil, amid reports that some MPs and leaders were planning a ‘coup’ against Corbyn after the June 23 referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union.
Pakistan-origin Khan, who was tipped to win the London mayor election until recently against Conservative Zac Goldsmith, told The Observer: “I accept that the comments that Ken Livingstone has made make it more difficult for Londoners of Jewish faith to feel that the Labour party is a place for them”.
“It is neck and neck. I don’t believe the polls. If last year (the 2015 general election) taught us anything, it is that you must not believe the polls. My message is clear. This is a neck-and-neck race. It is all about turnout,” he said.
Speaking to BBC on a Sunday morning show, shadow cabinet minister Diane Abbott said she took anti-Semitism “extremely seriously”, but it was a “smear against ordinary party members” to suggest that Labour had a problem with anti-Semitism.
Abbott, who is known to be close to Livingstone, said his remarks had been “extremely offensive”, but defended the party’s handling of the row.