Britain is holding local elections this week on what some have dubbed “Super Thursday,” but only one contest is worthy of the moniker: the race to succeed Boris Johnson as London’s mayor.
Mayoral elections rarely draw international attention. But the British capital is no ordinary city and its mayoralty is no ordinary office. London holds tremendous sway within Britain itself, both as an economic powerhouse and a population center. Roughly one in 10 members of Parliament come from the city’s constituencies—more than hail from Scotland, Wales, or Northern Ireland.
The office itself is also something of an anomaly. British governance tends to favor councils of local officials and collective government by cabinets of ministers. London’s mayor, by comparison, is elected by millions of voters from the city and its surrounding suburbs. Because most of Britain does not directly vote for the ministers in Parliament, let alone the House of Lords or the queen, the mayor can claim a stronger democratic mandate than perhaps any British politician other than the prime minister (who herself is not directly elected to that post, but assumes it as leader of the largest party in Parliament).
Which makes the current front-runner’s candidacy all the more interesting. Labour’s Sadiq Khan, a 45-year-old son of working-class Pakistani immigrants who fled the chaos of the partition of the Indian subcontinent in the 1940s, is poised to claim victory Thursday. He entered public life as a human-rights lawyer, taking on cases challenging racial discrimination and police brutality, before entering Parliament. From there, he rose rapidly to serve as a minister in Gordon Brown’s government and the Labour opposition thereafter, before gravitating toward a run for London’s highest office.