Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Khan Cannot Escape Questions about Extremists; Labour's Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan Calls It 'Desperate Stuff'; His Allies Denounce It as Racism. but Questions Just Will Not Go Away about His Early Career and His Willingness to Share Platforms with Extremists, Writes Political Editor Joe Murphy

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Why Khan Cannot Escape Questions about Extremists; Labour's Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan Calls It 'Desperate Stuff'; His Allies Denounce It as Racism. but Questions Just Will Not Go Away about His Early Career and His Willingness to Share Platforms with Extremists, Writes Political Editor Joe Murphy

Article excerpt

Byline: Editor Joe Murphy

IT IS a familiar story: a senior Labour figure in a heated election is denounced for sharing platforms with extremists. Amid cries of foul play, he is accused of "legitimising" vile individuals who seek to divide society, and of sending "wrong signals".

Did you assume I was describing this week's Tory attack on Sadiq Khan for having repeatedly attended events alongside people who made repulsive anti-Semitic or homophobic comments, or are linked to terrorist sympathisers? Wrong. The quotes are from Labour's former shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper, speaking last August about her party leader Jeremy Corbyn's almost identical record of sharing platforms with Islamist extremists such as Raed Salah, the so-called "blood libel cleric". "We have a responsibility not to give them legitimacy" warned Ms Cooper.

Curiously, she has suddenly changed her tune now that her friend Mr Khan is coming under the same criticism of his own record from Tory mayoral rival Zac Goldsmith and David Cameron. She turned her guns on Mr Goldsmith for attacking Mr Khan's judgment in speaking alongside people like Suliman Gani, who has called women "subservient" to men, and Azzam Tamimi who was quoted in Parliament as having said Israeli Jews should "sail on the sea in ships back to where they came, or drown in it". Ms Cooper now declared: "What started as a subtle dog-whistle is becoming a full blown racist scream."

She was quickly followed by Chuka Umunna and the Lib-Dem former Cabinet minister Vince Cable who adopted the term "Islamophobia" to denounce Mr Goldsmith for raising such questions.

In the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister said Labour MPs were "shouting down" the questions "because they don't want to hear the truth".

If Mr Cameron was right, it would not be the first time the shout of "racism" has been used to deter debate and investigation. But with the election for Mayor of London just two weeks away, a choice that will affect the lives of 8.6 million, it is right to ask difficult questions of the candidates without fear or favour.

The first question for Mr Khan is why he shared so many platforms before he became an MP in 2005 with so many unpleasant individuals whose unacceptable comments about women, gays, Jews and non-believers perhaps did not deserve what Ms Cooper called the "legitimising" effect of having a proper mainstream politician alongside? The Tooting MP has a ready answer, which is that he makes "no apology for having been a human rights lawyer".

But the problem is that the individuals in question were actually not clients of Mr Khan at all. For example, he spoke at a conference alongside Yasser al-Sirri, who claimed al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden "died an honourable death", and Sajeel Abu Ibrahim, who the Sunday Times reported ran a camp in Pakistan that trained militants including the 7/7 bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. In neither case was he giving legal advice.

Mr Khan's office responds that he was invited "as a lawyer" and as chair of Liberty, and that he used the conference to explain legal cases he had been involved in, reportedly one involving three members of the militant group Hizb-ut-Tahrir.

But that begs the question why he lent his reputation as a rising political figure and the name of Liberty to such meetings where speakers who lacked Mr Khan's own decent values might grow stronger by association with him.

As a partner in the booming legal firm Christian Khan, the future Tooting MP developed a specialism in suing the police and advised that spotting a human rights "angle" would increase the chances of fees being met from legal aid. "Think laterally in looking for human rights issues," he counselled in a how-to guide called Actions Against The Police. "Many are not obviously a breach of human rights, but have a human rights angle."

He certainly helped families who had suffered injustice, including shocking deaths in custody, but why did he also use his talents to help less deserving individuals? …

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