Across the western world, iconoclastic supposed “outsiders” are taking over politics. Trump and his total disregard to the generally accepted rules about what politicians can and cannot say; Corbyn’s total disinterest in the conventions of Westminster politics, to the point of thinking his entire parliamentary party is an irrelevance; the Vote Leave campaign’s lack of shame in peddling obvious untruths.
Against this, there is one politician and one electoral result from the last year that really stands out: Sadiq Khan winning the London mayoralty. Partly this is because Sadiq won by being positive and hopeful in an era of fear mongering and anti-establishment posturing. But it is also notable because he ran a professional, what could only be deemed these days as “old school”, campaign.
But there is another reason it stands out so starkly from everything else that is happening in western politics. Sadiq Khan is a machine politician. I say that as a compliment to the guy: he understand how politics works and knows how to use the media, other politicians and business to achieve what he wants to achieve. His media team have easily been the most efficient within UK politics since he took office, and as a result he has been able to control the agenda in London in a way that no other politician has come remotely close to achieving anywhere else in Britain (I include May in that, at least so far).
Before some of you jump up and say “Justin Trudeau”, I will admit you have half a point there. But Trudeau’s victory came off the back of a decade of a very right-wing prime minister backed up by what had become an openly corrupt Canadian Conservative Party. While I would be the first to have an unkind thing to say about Boris (all right, I probably wouldn’t get there first, admittedly), there is no comparison there. They had a another “maverick” Tory backed up with a fear campaign to vote for in this year’s mayoral election. Yet the voters of London opted for the hope candidate. For the machine politician. By 14 points, no less.
The problem is, I have no idea what to take from Sadiq’s victory, i.e. how you could replicate it elsewhere within the UK political system. I do know that it is weird that having a politician who is both popular and competent is now the exception not the rule. Hopefully this is only a strange thing in the context of 2016.