'I'll out-ethnic you, my kids are quarter Indian'
The three main candidates for the job of London mayor have made a pitch for the one million Asian votes on a British Asian radio station, with Boris Johnson of the Tory Party telling his host, "You can't out-ethnic me!"
"My children are a quarter Indian, so put that in your pipe and smoke it," the colourful journalist-cum-MP told his Sri Lankan-born host at the BBC Asian Radio debate on Thursday.
Johnson, considered an upper class candidate for his privileged upbringing - he was educated at Eton, one of the world's best known public schools - is running neck-and-neck with London's unabashedly left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, for the May 1 election.
At the debate, Johnson established his ethnic credentials by declaring, "Almost 100 years ago my Turkish great-great grandfather came to London and I'm very proud of that."
Presenter Nihal Arthanayake asked: "What part of your Turkish culture have you retained?"
BJ: A lively ... interest in Turkey.
NA: How often do you go and see your family?
BJ: It turns out I've got plenty of Turkish cousins living and working in London.
NA: Did you just find out when you needed it to get the ethnic vote?
BJ: No, I'm happy to say that lots of Turkish relations have been coming and going in our family for a long time.
NA: Are you down with (British slang denoting familiarity) the ethnics?
BJ: I'm down with the ethnics. You can't out-ethnic me, Nihal!
NA: How many bhangra gigs have you been to over the last few years? Who's your favourite bhangra artiste?
BJ: I can't remember. But my children are a quarter Indian, so put that in your pipe and smoke it!"
NA: Okay, let's not try to out-brown each other today.
Johnson is married to Anglo-Indian lawyer Marina Wheeler, whose father is Charles Wheeler, the BBC's longest-serving foreign correspondent and a legendary British journalist.
At Thursday's debate, all three men - Livingstone of the Labour party, Johnson and Brian Paddick of the Liberal Democrats - tried to outdo each other with pitches to the substantial Asian community of London.
According to the latest estimate by the Greater London Authority, the financially powerful Indian community is the largest ethnic minority group in the British capital, numbering more than 490,000 in a total population of nearly 7.5 million in 2006.
Along with Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and other smaller Asian groups such as Sri Lankans but discounting Chinese, the total number of so-called Asians in London crosses a million.
Asked why Asians should vote for him, Johnson said: "There are all sorts of Asian communities, so it's a bit patronising to say there's a one-size-fits-all Asian community issue."
Many ethnic Indians in Britain are opposed to the catch-all label of 'Asians' apparently because they dislike being lumped with Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.
Johnson said one of his priorities would be to increase policing for small London businesses that are typically run by Asians.
"Small businesses are vulnerable to crime," he said, adding he personally knew shopkeepers who were "being shoplifted every day and suffering assault every week.
"They deserve the support of the society and protection of the police and being championed by the mayor," said Johnson, who is the editor The Spectator, a pro-Tory magazine.
Paddick, an ex-policeman, charged Mayor Ken Livingstone with showing "apparently, a bias towards Black and African Caribbean communities".
He promised to ensure that more grants from the London Development Agency went to Pakistanis and Bangladeshis, saying "I don't think those communities have had a fair deal from the Mayor".
Mayor Livingstone, who is bidding for an unprecedented third term in office, arrived half an hour late for the debate saying his children wanted to spend more time with him.