What is the most politically dangerous book ever published? Mein Kampf by Adolf Hitler? Das Kapital by Karl Marx? The Little Red Book of Chairman Mao? Or To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?
It might well be the latter, to judge by a recent interview with Sadiq Khan in the Times as part of the newspaper’s regular ‘My Culture Fix’ segment, where various well-known public figures show off needlessly about their most-loved works of page, stage and screen. Here, the current Mayor of London self-righteously proclaimed for all to hear that Lee’s was his favourite ever novel.
Name-checking the book’s best-known character, a noble anti-racist lawyer who defends an innocent black man in the old Jim Crow-era Deep South of the USA, Khan boasted of how, when reading it as an impressionable young child, “the seed was first planted for me to become a [human rights] lawyer” as “I wanted to be Atticus Finch. I still do.” When it comes to fictional lawyers, Sadiq reminds me more of Lionel Hutz from The Simpsons personally, but never mind.
It can sometimes seem as if To Kill a Mockingbird has inspired every Left-wing politician under the Sun to pass into the world of public affairs these days. Whenever asked about their favourite movies or novels, a disproportionate number do seem to take the opportunity to brag about their boundless love of its simplistic, child-friendly, anti-prejudice message, from Shami Chakrabarti to Barack Obama.
Harper Lee’s classic morality tale is not a bad book or film, by any means. But I don’t think it’s the story’s actual innate literary quality which really leads so many of today’s politicians to so ostentatiously praise it, so much as its easy usefulness as a clear cultural vehicle through which to signal their ideological correctness to all the right modern voter-bases in these sad days of BLM and George Floyd: it is a story about an innocent black man navigating a world of systemic racism and being placed at the mercy of the hands of a cabal of cartoonishly bigoted white people, after all.
I wonder if, once upon a time, when subjected to similar cultural quizzes by journalists, racist white politicians of the actual Jim Crow era used to obsequiously court their own presumed ethnic client-electorate by answering Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell or The Birth of a Nation by D.W. Griffith?
The Laugh of Khan
When politicians these days agree to sit down and answer journalists’ questions about any aspect of their (purported) cultural hinterlands whatsoever, the strong suspicion has to be that all their answers have been vetted beforehand by nervous media advisers: otherwise, someone might slip up and admit his favourite book is actually his own autobiography, the main protagonist being the only person he’s ever truly been interested in.
With all this in mind, let’s look more closely at Sadiq Khan’s recent Times piece to see what kind of barely ‘subliminal’ message he was possibly trying to send out to London’s voters with his choices. Well, figures from the last U.K. census show quite clearly that Londonistan today is well on its way to becoming a majority non-white city, so it would no longer make electoral sense for him to claim his favourite comedy character is Alf Garnett from Til Death Us Do Part. Instead, “The last TV programme that made me cry or laugh” was allegedly the apparent BBC sitcom Man Like Mobeen, an unwatchable load of rubbish about a deluded Muslim loser from a British inner-city (not Khan himself), which Sadiq says “had me laughing and then crying within seconds”.
Getting in a not-at-all-obvious dig at the corporation’s dreaded Right-wing critics, the Beeb’s general wider output, says Khan, “demonstrates how lucky we are” to have it. Watching dire, unfunny, ethnic special-interest crap such as Man Like Mobeen aimed exclusively at Muslims and those who wish to pander to them, where we once used to have universally loved and genuinely amusing London-set BBC sitcoms aimed at all, irrespective of race, religion or cultural identity, like Only Fools and Horses, or Steptoe & Son, makes me feel the precise reverse, personally.
Some of Citizen Khan’s Culture Fix answers were political in an even more explicitly naked manner, such as when he claimed the recent London-set gangster series Top Boy was his favourite TV show ever. Due to its being “gritty” and “honest”, said Khan, “The [Evil Tory] Government might learn a thing or two about what it’s like to live in some of our under-served communities [i.e., inner-city black ones, whose residents should all vote for me] by watching it.”
How come? You’re the one presiding over record levels of black-on-black knife-crime across London yourself aren’t you, Mr. Khan, so clearly being a regular viewer of the show didn’t make you run public affairs any better, did it? This line of ‘logic’ is equivalent to appointing someone Defence Secretary on the sole grounds that he or she has seen every single episode of M*A*S*H.
Those Who Khan’t, Preach
His crudely instrumentalist view of the purpose of literature, meanwhile, would put Stalinist-age champions of agitprop Soviet Socialist Realism like Maxim Gorky to shame. What book did he most wish he had written? Well, first of all, in order to curry a little cheap favour from readers of the middle-brow best-selling mass-market crime-fiction flavour of the moment, “Anything by Richard Osman”. A few years back, it would have been “Anything by J.K. Rowling”, but then she publicly realised what a woman was, so that precise answer would no longer do.
This distracting nod towards the general voter out of the way, Khan moves with relief onto what he does best instead: playing electoral games of racial divide-and-conquer with all the subtlety of a politician in Palestine saying his favourite Shakespeare play is The Merchant of Venice. It seems the other book, out of all the masterpieces of human literature, that Sadiq most wishes he had written is not Anna Karenina, The Iliad or Tess of the D’Urbevilles, but the rather more obscure recent work, A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza.
What’s that? Never heard of it. Khan explains its genius, in suspiciously blurb-like words which he had definitely not had his PR underlings write out and then memorised beforehand: “Beautifully written, it tells the story of an Indian Muslim family living in America, striving to find a balance between tradition and modernity. My brothers and sister and I were born in London to immigrant parents and although this story is fiction, there are parallels that I could relate to.”
I’m sure there are various parallels there that certain non-white voters could very easily relate to too, which I would guess is kind of the point: “Do you get that, non-white voters of London? It’s called A Place for Us. FOR US. Do you see what I’m saying here?” If not, there’s always the rest of the interview for Sadiq to repeat his relentlessly one-note identitarian message throughout endlessly.
The Art of Politics
But enough about boring old books, which many recent immigrants into London probably can’t even read without an English-to-Urdu translation app to hand. What about music? What about public exhibitions? Does Sadiq have anything interesting to say about any of that? Well, Khan is very pleased indeed to reveal that: “One exhibition I’m really excited to see will be The Music Is Black – A British Story, which is coming to London [in spring 2025] at the new V&A East in the Olympic Park.” So, the next public exhibition you’re looking forward to doesn’t even take place for another 18 months, and centres entirely upon black British pop stars and recording artists? What are your true motives for giving this answer, Sadiq? Presumably, the unspoken implications are as follows:
- I love black people, particularly those currently registered to vote within the Greater London area.
- I have just spent large sums of other people’s tax-money helping regenerate a region of inner-city London with new public buildings and ideologically compliant arts facilities like the V&A East.
- The contents of these selfsame new ideologically compliant public buildings will substantially henceforth be devoted to demonstrating that I love black people.
And if you “could own one painting” from just one such public building, Mr. Khan, pray tell, what would it be? Seemingly, it would be the black British artist Chris Ofili’s extremely ugly No Woman, No Cry, currently hanging at the Tate. Not something by Picasso, Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Caravaggio or Joshua Reynolds, then? No, because none of those big white idiots had ever seen fit to paint a canvas as thoroughly amazing as the following one: “It is a stunning portrait of Baroness Doreen Lawrence, one of my all-time heroes. The painting has such depth, with references to [her racially murdered son] Stephen, and the scale and colour is captivating.” I presume this particular image was one of the few Mr. Ofili didn’t see fit to execute using a big pile of elephant shit, then?
Campaign in Poetry, Govern in Prose
Poems, Sadiq, then, poems. What are your favourite poems? For God’s sake, man, do you have any that are nether by, nor anything to do, with Muslims, Labour Party client-voters, or sainted wronged black people? No, of course not. His favourite ‘lyricist’ is revealed as being Neil Kinnock!
Asked to name “the poem that saved me”, an emetic question in and of itself, Khan could only mumble out Still I Rise, a piece of risible, Oprah Winfrey-style motivational positive-thinking doggerel with a self-pitying racial edge to it by the excessively-garlanded black U.S. pseudo-poet Maya Angelou: “This encouraging poem is bold, proud and fearless – all good characteristics needed for a politician.” Yes, it sounds just like how my granddad would once have described Enoch Powell.
Even most of Sadiq’s apparently non-political ‘Culture Fixes’, such as his admission of a love for ABBA or the TV drama Succession, turn out on closer inspection to be weighed down by totally unnecessary references to the fact that various actors and singers from them happen to have graced London stages recently: “I love seeing other live music. Bruce Springsteen at Hyde Park, Madonna at the O2, The National at Ally Pally and Interpol at Somerset House were some of my highlights last year.” Oh, Mr. Khan, under your own enlightened rule, London truly is a Capital of Culture! You’d think he’d booked them all himself personally or something.
That certainly appears to be what Khan and his underlings would like you to believe. The propaganda plug at the end of the Times interview runs as follows: “Sign up to the Mayor of London’s Culture Team newsletter at london.gov.uk.” No thanks, Sadiq. With fake tastes like yours, I’d rather sign up for such updates from www.Hermann-Goering.com instead: “When I hear the word culture, I reach for my gun.” Now there was a culturally honest politician for you! (Although actually this famous quote was misattributed.)
To be fair, there did seem to be at least one authentically honest answer given by Sadiq Khan in his recent Times interview. When asked what book he was currently reading, Sadiq replied: “Zadie Smith’s The Fraud. I’ve loved all her work.”
Loved it? You’re bloody living it, mate. Your interview proves it.
Steven Tucker is a journalist and the author of over 10 books, the latest being Hitler’s & Stalin’s Misuse of Science: When Science Fiction Was Turned Into Science Fact by the Nazis and the Soviets (Pen & Sword/Frontline), which is out now.