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Leaders spar as London looks set to elect Muslim mayor

world Updated: May 04, 2016 23:11 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar

Britain's Labour party candidate for London Mayor Sadiq Khan speaks to the media on the eve of the London mayoral elections. (AFP)

Prime Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sparred in the House of Commons on Wednesday, reflecting the intensity that marked campaigning for Thursday’s elections for the next London mayor and other local elections across Britain.

Both leaders accused each other of indulging in divisive campaigning, with Labour’s ani-Semitism row continuing to resonate and embarrass the party. Cameron hit at Labour mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan for sharing the stage with allegedly pro-Islamic State elements.

In the backdrop of the anti-Semitism row, Cameron put Corbyn on the backfoot for calling Hamas and Hezbollah “friends”, and challenged him to withdraw his remarks made some time ago. Corbyn insisted there was no place for anti-Semitism in Labour.

Khan’s likely victory in London would present a lifeline for Corbyn, who has been struggling to establish himself since his election as the Labour leader after the May 2015 general election. A win in London is seen as the party’s best hope in Thursday’s elections.

According to Khan, Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith’s campaign would deter people of Asian and Afro-Caribbean background from going into public life. Goldsmith has been criticised for ‘racial profiling’ of voters in London through community-based leaflets.

Besides London, elections are also due for the Scottish Parliament, Welsh, Northern Ireland and London assemblies, local council elections in England, and police and crime commissioner elections.

Corbyn, who some reports claim will face a coup after the June 23 EU referendum, believes that the party will not lose any council seats on Thursday, but opinion polls suggested that Labour could lose nearly 150 seats across Britain.