Zac Goldsmith accuses mayoral rival Sadiq Khan of 'playing race card'

Zac Goldsmith

Zac Goldsmith, the Tory London mayoral candidate, has accused his Labour rival Sadiq Khan of “playing the race card” in an escalation of tensions in their electoral battle.

Goldsmith made the claim after Khan objected to being called “radical and divisive” on Tory election leaflets, saying the use of such language about a Muslim candidate was playing with fire.

Asked if the leaflets were a coded way of trying to link Khan to Islamic extremism, Goldsmith insisted he was making a point that he thought Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was radical. He said Khan nominated the Labour leader and was chosen by the same pool of party members.

Pressed again, Goldsmith claimed it was in fact Khan who was playing with fire and defended his right to use the word “radical” about his opponent. “I don’t think there is anything more divisive than playing the race card when it clearly, unambiguously does not apply,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

When Goldsmith published the leaflets in December, sources on Khan’s team suggested it was a “coded racist attack”. Khan later expanded on his criticism of the leaflet in an interview with the Sunday Times, saying it was “frankly offensive”.

“Calling someone divisive and radical, be very careful how that’s perceived. You’re playing with fire. When you say that about a candidate of Islamic faith, what are you implying? That will come back and bite you in the bum if you resort to that,” he said.

Khan has said he does not want to criticise Goldsmith over his privileged background but has claimed the Tory MP for Richmond is a “serial and habitual underachiever”. Goldsmith has in turn previously accused Khan of “negative tribal politics”.

Responding to Goldsmith’s latest interview, a spokesman for Khan said: “It was the Zac Goldsmith campaign which put out the infamous dog-whistle leaflet branding Sadiq as ‘radical’ just because he happens to be a Muslim. And it was Zac Goldsmith’s campaign which had to launch an investigation after alleged racist remarks from a Tory canvasser to a voter.

“Their campaign is already so desperate that they’ve resorted to Lynton Crosby’s divisive dog-whistling because they simply have no answers to the challenges London faces like fixing the housing crisis and keeping fares down.”

Crosby, David Cameron’s election strategist, is not running Goldsmith’s campaign but his business partner, Mark Fullbrook, is involved.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rowena Mason Political correspondent, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 5th January 2016 11.03 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010