A former Labour mayor is backing the Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, claiming Sadiq Khan has “failed” Londoners.
Rakhia Ismail announced on Monday that she is supporting Shaun Bailey in next year’s City Hall election – claiming he is the best candidate to tackle knife crime in the city.
In an exclusive interview with the Local Democracy Service, she said the current Mayor of London has lost touch with the people he represents.
Ms Ismail, an Islington councillor, was the first British mayor to wear a hijab when she took up the ceremonial role for the borough last year.
She represented Labour as a Holloway councillor for more than eight years before leaving the party in September, claiming she faced discrimination from fellow members.
In a statement at the time of her departure, Islington council leader Cllr Richard Watts described Ms Ismail’s decision as “extremely regrettable” and said he is “proud to lead a diverse and talented group of Islington Labour councillors”.
Ms Ismail has now joined the Conservative Party and is working as part of Mr Bailey’s mayoral campaign.
“I’m a grass roots activist and between us Shaun Bailey and I have over 50 years experience,” she said. “I believe he has an alternative.
“I went into politics to give hope and a voice to those who suffer in silence, but we have a Mayor who is more worried about his image than what he can do for parents.
“I don’t see any bold vision from him – I don’t see leadership. We need a Mayor who’s in touch with Londoners.”
But the Islington councillor has not always blamed Mr Khan for high crime in London.
Last March, she said in a tweet that there is “blood on Tories’ hands” and claimed Government austerity has caused knife crime.
As recently as December last year she attacked “the doom and gloom of Tory cruelty” and said Labour was the “light at the end of the tunnel”.
She also said a Conservative win in last year’s General Election would be “a disaster for British muslims”.
Asked about her tweets, Ms Ismail acknowledged that “of course there are issues” with the Conservative party.
“At the time that’s how I felt but people’s views change as time changes,” she said. “After what I have been through with Labour that has changed.
“I joined Labour because I thought it was the party for equality, justice and fairness – but I haven’t seen that.”
Ms Ismail said she had “thought seriously” about her decision to cross the floor to a party she has previously criticised.
“You have to go beyond someone doing bad things to you,” she said. “As Muslims we have to reach out and give peace and love. We can’t just shut the door.
“But it doesn’t matter which party line you come from: if you’re Mayor of London you have to speak for the people who have given you the mandate.”
A spokesperson for London Labour said: “We will not take any lessons on tackling crime from the Tory mayoral candidate who oversaw huge cuts to the Met Police and youth services when he was the Downing Street Crime Adviser.
“He is still refusing to ask his Tory mates in Government to refund the Met Police for the cost of tackling Covid-19, which will mean yet more Tory austerity inflected on our police.”
The London mayoral election was due to take place in May this year, but was delayed because of coronavirus. It will now be held on 6 May 2021.